Of Bells and a Thousand

Years of Peace

The calendar points to the moment of Monday midnight, to the tolling of the Island bells, to that time in our lives when old becomes new and we wonder what lies ahead. These are the days just before and just after the first bell strikes that we find most appropriate for that old and familiar greeting spoken so comfortably and without rancor. Happy New Year is the refrain now heard across the Island, in every corner of every Vineyard township.

Its translation is simple, even eloquent: new hope for a new year, especially the hope that the human landscape of our lives improves, that the quality of life for all is better in 2008 than it was in 2007. Surely the theme of renewed hope in a new year belongs to everyone. But the importance of the moment is recognized through the ages and perhaps best captured in thoughts of poets and philosophers.

“No one ever regarded the first of January with indifference,” writes English author Charles Lamb. Reflections from the English scholar A.E. Housman revolve around the beauty of the “death-struck year” and Emerson reminds that the “years teach what the days never know.” No old year escapes into new without song and those soaring words of the Scot Robert Burns: “And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne.”

And what new year arrives without the thoughts of Tennyson when as poet laureate of England in the 1800s he wrote: “Ring out the old, ring in the new; Ring, happy bells, across the snow; The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.” Through stanza after stanza Tennyson replaces what is gone with hope for what is to come. “Ring out the thousand wars of old; Ring in the thousand years of peace.”

It is difficult, perhaps the better word is impossible, to predict the course of the year 2008. But it is not hard on the Vineyard or elsewhere in the nation to move forward with hopes common to all, with yearnings for peace and prosperity, for good health and a genuine compassion for our fellow Island citizens. Year after year we worry about the fissures in Vineyard life, about political divisions that so often leave the Island too fractured for its own good. Our public discourse runs too quickly to extremes where no one listens and everyone talks at once.

What the Vineyard needs urgently is a set of New Year’s resolutions that brings into the public life of the Island more civility and a greater respect for the thoughts and beliefs of our fellow citizens. Deep division in Island life is our enemy, not our ally. We must find better ways to talk to each other, to hear each other, in search of compromise and common solutions necessary to preserve and protect the character of the Vineyard and quality of its life. Our wish for the Vineyard community in the coming new year is for greater unity and for an end to wounding attacks brought on by destructive personal politics.

Certainly there are better arenas to argue the issues of growth and noise than within the boundaries of courts and collisions that divide neighbors between a rooster named Chickie and a helipad yet unnamed. We have in the past year suffered both disappointments and triumphs. The economy has struggled through a rough patch; the Island lost any number of dear neighbors, some well-known, others not. Storms tore a hole in Norton Point and we even lost our trusted ferry Islander after a longstanding love affair.

But the name of the new ferry Island Home speaks to the strength of this special place called Martha’s Vineyard. Always the Island shows her greatest resilience in times of adversity. It is in these moments that the Vineyard and her citizens are at their best. And so we move toward the first Monday midnight sound of church bells with firm resolve to leave the Island and her people in better shape at the end of 2008 than we did in these now dying days of a fading year.

Finally, from all of us at the Vineyard Gazette we extend to everyone, especially our readers on the Island and across the nation, best wishes for a Happy New Year.