There’s a reason that at this time of year many of us experience a breakdown of sorts. It can be anything from a momentary cri de coeur to a lingering sadness to a snap decision to, well, do something other than be here. The thing is, we long-timers occasionally feel stranded on the Island and we ask ourselves if it’s absolutely necessary to stay. Why, sure, this place is gorgeous, unspoiled, scenic and architecturally handsome every way you turn, but we wonder, as we’ve done in the distant past with some of our worst romantic choices: Are looks everything? This quandary — this sense of being orphaned here — is especially true for those of us who’ve raised a family on this Island, with a rich tapestry of events that spun themselves out way too fast — and now we’re here. Alone. With any luck, we’ve got a dog. Or a cat. Or a whole bunch of dogs and cats. But otherwise, we’re thinking, who turned off the lights and why are we sitting in the dark?
I wish I could say I’ve kept the family fires burning in the old homestead, but in truth I’ve moved so many times since the three Nadlers sold the second of their family homes that I’m actually more of a nomad than my son who’s making comedy in Los Angeles, and my ex-husband, Marty, whom I adore, now settled in his canal-side condo in Florida.
My own intra-Island moves have included a month of snow (some of it in the room) at the Nashua House one February, a half-year of shared roosting with Jib Ellis in his old yellow Civil War-era house across from Eastville Beach (this without realizing that Jib still used his front rooms for his waking hours), and a couple of years on Old Ridge Hill Road in Chilmark where I served as caretaker and memory keeper for my late friends Dawn and Roger Greeley.
I had a dream-like three years in a loft space with a view of Oak Bluffs harbor, the Our Market Budweiser sign predominating. I lived over my bookstore on Circuit avenue and bunked for a couple of months in a funky old place (now renovated, unrecognizable) towering over the bluffs of East Chop. The list of dwellings, pit stops, and temporary domiciles goes on, enough said.
The question that occurs to me is does all this Vineyard shuffling, to which so many of us are heir — does it give us deeper roots on the Island, considering that we’ve perched on so many different plots of it?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I’d managed to hold on to our charming old cottage on the shores of East Chop, with Charlie gone, Marty gone, our various pets vanished over the years, just myself and the fog horn blaring on these present, cold October nights? I think in that scenario I’d be even lonelier.
Wherever we live at any given moment has the potential to be home. Where the buffalo roam. Where you hang your hat. Where your loved ones come to visit, particularly in the summer, sometimes all of them in with you together (Ouch).
Then I am reminded of a wonderful photo that someone sent me on Facebook:
Two people roam in the distance, their backs to the camera, strolling down a country road surrounded by bucolic green. It could be Ireland or Chilmark or the woods along Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs. Beneath the picture is a quotation from Ram Dass, “We’re just walking each other home.”
Of course. This isn’t home. And yet we can bring a higher home to us by opening our hearts. So why go anywhere else? We’re already there, or could be there.
Two summers ago, I had the privilege to talk to Ram Dass via Skype at a reception for his new book at the Simon Gallery in Vineyard Haven. Ram Dass was in Hawaii.
My question to him (after many other penetrating questions posed by people in attendance) was: “I’ve been a meditator and a seeker for many years, but I’ve never met anyone who seemed to be a guru, as you and so many others have described gurus in your lives.”
Ram Dass told me: “Next time you meditate, ask to communicate with the guru in your heart.”
It was about nine o’clock that night when I left the gallery, catching the bus home to Oak Bluffs. A heavy fog — almost a drizzle, but silvery — caught the light of the gazebo in Ocean Park. A brass quintet played some of the old standards. In spite of the moist air, people stood about or sat on blankets. The globes of lights surrounding the park blurred into amber moons, with lights from the fairy tale houses glittering off and on like spooky chimeras.
I ran into an old friend and marveled: “Isn’t it amazing that we live here? That we get to live here?”
We need to measure out our lives, not necessarily in coffee spoons, as T.S. Elliot described; that’s too stringent (of course he meant it to be), but perhaps taking it year by year. I’ll undoubtedly stay right here where I washed up 21 years ago, for at least another four seasons. I live on an Island that’s impossibly beautiful,in a community that’s heart-achingly dear.
That’s enough for now, isn’t it? As we walk each other home.
Gazette contributor Holly Nadler lives in Oak Bluffs.