Only so many degrees of separation

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 5:00pm

We’re in a heat advisory, I hear on the radio, all of Washington Country as well as much of Rhode Island then after a few more key words register, I realize I am listening to the morning guy in the evening, a replay and not even one of this morning.

It has been dry, finally I am beginning to notice routinely cut lawns are brown, but in the evening the air turns damp. I hear the salute that floats over the New Harbor at sunset, noticeable earlier every night now that we are in mid-August. I hear it from my house but not from other places, closer to the source, but sheltered by land. We used to sometimes hear the speaker at Champlin’s Yacht Station, or the mumble of the announcements at the State Beach, the time, that the Spring House van would soon be in the parking lot, the exotic trappings of that alien summer that belonged to vacationers.

Monday in town seemed as empty as a summer Monday could be, and then I came home and heard music carrying over the water from the harbor, traveling miles, a trick of no obstruction coupled by a breeze. It had been busy, apparently, out there, beyond my sight and hearing, as evidenced by the lines of people awaiting the late boats back to the mainland.

So much for the state’s much touted limit on social gatherings.

It was a horrid weekend on Block Island. Early Sunday afternoon one ambulance came down Water Street, sirens blasting in a way they reserve for the worst cases, and then another, as fast and as loud, too soon for it not to have been from the same source, and when there are two it is likely an accident. This year the medi-vac helicopter has gone back to landing at the airport so when the fire engines came through town, also with sirens blaring, and headed up High Street it was just a matter of waiting until we heard how bad whatever had happened was.

In summer, I never think of it being anyone I know, the odds are statistically against it, but it is always some person, someone’s family member or friend, and we do know the Fire and Rescue Squad, Police and Medical Center personnel. There are only so many degrees of separation in a town this small. It is always strange to me that people pause for the emergency vehicles then simply keep going, as if they’d been waiting for the pedestrian “walk” to flash. There is no reason for them to do otherwise, but it underscores the nature of this very seasonal place.

It may be one of the things that makes us, if only for a brief moment in time, completely like the mainland, with its foundation of anonymity, that make us precisely what so many vacationers think they are escaping.

Social media blew up, as it is wont to do, the worse the event — and, as everyone knows by now, this one was a tragedy of epic proportions — the more the beast is fed — and the more the beast is fed the more it seems to crave horror. Truth is thrown to the wind in the race for sordid details, the reflection of who we are, as a society, is not kind.

It was just another example of the speculation, the judgement, the fiction interlaced that has become the trademark of too many social media sites.

Then there is the pandemic that has yet to be vanquished, that history will likely show did not cause as much as enable the darkness to invade our little world, that and undying fantasy that things can’t go wrong on Block Island, despite the fact they do, with increasingly less recovery time in between, perhaps a commentary on our collective lack of attention span combined with an extraordinary lack of honest interest in what actually happened six or 14 or 30 years ago.

Worse, though — and I keep circling back to Sunday’s accident — is this repeated notion that “it happens every few years” as if that’s somehow okay that we’re so much more like the mainland than we used to be.

Remember those halcyon days of the spring time when we were cloistered, and had to prepare grocery orders by email or phone, and trips even on-island were limited to essential activities?

So why a photo of my sweet, golden, dog, who decided to be a road block when I was coming home? Why not?