I am the cemetery walker. This is not a grim or macabre title. Rather, it’s one of the most spiritually connected aspects of my life.

Every morning after dropping my daughter off at school I take a brief stroll around the Abel’s Hill cemetery in Chilmark. It’s always quiet among the headstones. Other than the shriek of a hawk or the distant rumble of car wheels on South Road, the graveyard is silent.

The cemetery is unique. Right up front is the faux gravestone of the late comedian John Belushi. Most locals know he’s buried elsewhere, yet this prominent spot serves as a decoy for curiosity seekers and boisterous fans who litter the shrine with beer cans, nip bottles and scraps of paper littered with quotes from his films. The site is meant to be a raucous cheer to a wild-eyed hero, but I see it as a somber mark of a brilliant life cut short in a tailspin of drugs and emotional chaos.

Right around the corner is the gravesite of dramatist and screenwriter Lillian Hellman, the New Orleans native who, along with her romantic partner Dashell Hammett, was blacklisted from Hollywood during the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s. Her gravesite has a curious array of coins on it: quarters, dimes, a single nickel. I have no idea what this means, but someone took the care to place them neatly.

Further into the cemetery one sees the faded, moss-stained headstones of 19th century Island families: Mayhews, Vincents, Tiltons, Cottles. Other familiar names abound: Flanders, Hancocks, Murphys, Larsens.

These walks are solitary. In over a year I’ve yet to encounter another soul at this morning hour. As I reach the half-way point, there is a section where figures who populated much of my life are laid to rest. I pass by a pair of headstones indicating Mr. and Mrs. Jenkinson, the elderly couple who drove students home from the Chilmark School in the late 70s in their station wagons, the town’s quaint version of a school bus system. Stan Hart’s grave brings to mind the joyful way he’d shout “Eddie!!!” when he’d see my father and the way these two longtime friends would embrace. For years they were tennis partners and once hosted The Stan and Ed Show on WMVY, speaking on-air with Mike Wallace, Art Buchwald, Walter Cronkite and other seasonal residents.

Some headstones are more recent. I pass by Kristen Maloney’s, remembering how she’d host Stories and Songs at the Chilmark Library. Six years ago I sat in the circle with my two-year-old daughter on my lap, joining other families as we sang together. And then there’s Bette Carroll, the gracious, warm soul who seemed to embody the best of Chilmark with her kindness, grit and unrelenting focus on family and community. I remember her funeral service in 2015, when the pastor said it would be difficult to imagine a Chilmark without Bette Carroll. He’s right, yet we continue on. That’s the way of things.

Martha’s Vineyard has become popular in recent years in a way that was unimaginable 30 years ago when I was heading off to college in the midwest. Back then, my reply to the question “Where are you from?” was met with blank stares. Today I hear people talk about their visit to the Island being the highlight of the year. Those who move away find themselves drawn back. Those living here hold on amidst housing shortages and the exorbitant cost of living, often at great personal sacrifice. Everyone from CEOs and Hollywood luminaries to former Presidents of the United States seek out the Vineyard. For a while this puzzled me. There are thousands of beautiful islands around the world. What’s so special about this one?

I think the answer can be found in the cemetery. Martha’s Vineyard is more than a geographical place. It’s a people place. Those buried at Abel’s Hill lived lives similar to the granite headstones above them — sturdy, weathered and without a speck of pretense or varnish. Lives that may have been chipped and flawed, were also sturdy and reliable. This authenticity, increasingly rare in a loud, fast and garish world, draws people back to the Island. You can feel this spirit in every Island cemetery. The bodies have been laid to rest and the souls have moved on, yet there is a resonance among the tombstones. You have to be quiet, quiet as the stones themselves, but if you listen, it’s unmistakable.