Anonymity on an island
In September, the Island shrinks. For two whole months, it’s possible to get lost 0n Martha’s Vineyard, as it teems with tourists and day-trippers. Traffic grinds to a halt, your favorite coffee shop has a line out the door, and it’s not even worth trying to get to the grocery store. Surely there’s a box of mac and cheese in the closet somewhere.
And then, like September herself waved a magic wand, the Island is transformed. It’s possible to get a reservation at your favorite restaurant at seven. The private beaches no longer require resident passes. You can pop out to the store to get milk, find a parking spot, and be home in a half hour. There’s room to breathe.
Yet despite what is gained, something is lost, too. Anonymity.
While this might not mean much to someone born and raised on the Island or in any other small town, for those of us from cities or larger places, there is something powerful about not being known.
I grew up in the Boston area, and my high school had nearly two thousand students. I remember seeing my science teacher one afternoon in the parking lot of the eye doctor and wondering, What the hell is she doing here? I grew up with parents who were teachers, so it’s not like I thought she actually lived at school, but seeing her with her daughter in tow on a weekend crossed some boundary, like she’d stepped into my bedroom uninvited.
Forget six degrees of separation. Martha’s Vineyard in the winter is three degrees of separation. If you’re a teacher, more like two degrees. Your doctor? Also a parent in your school. That guy working out on the elliptical machine next to you? Your mechanic. The woman in the grocery store filling her cart? She checked out your library books yesterday. Oh, and you used to teach her kids. While this drove me crazy when I first moved here, I’ve come to appreciate it over the years. Living on the Island is kind of like college, when you’d go to the dining hall and see the faces of people that you knew. Some of them you actually knew and others you just recognized. The girl from your Shakespeare class over there by the frozen yogurt machine. The guy getting second helpings of meatloaf—he was in your nutrition class. And the two girls in the corner—they lived on your floor freshman year.
So though I’ll miss being able to hide in the corner of a coffee shop with my book and laptop and not bump into anyone I know, I’m glad to live in a place where the connections between people are abundant and varied; where I’m greeted by name a dozen times a day, on the street, the library or the gym. I’m grateful to live in a place where this thing we call community is a vibrating living being rather than an abstract noun.
And really, the line out the door for that coffee place was ridiculous, and I never would have found a table alone anyway.