Classrooms were not made for June; they were made for November. In the fall, the wind whips in off the North Atlantic and the kids run to the warmth and light of the school. From the window, they watch the scallopers motor out into the purple overcast and the white flecked harbor and they thank their lucky stars for literary terms and the FOIL method.
But in June…The students come in with shirts and shorts, hats and sunscreen. Homework disappears, books get paged through, and sweat soaks through the teacher’s hair and into his collar. Out here, we can see the bikes pass, the jeeps wait in traffic, and the sailboats glide across the harbor. Bumblebees and birds dart in and then out of the classroom, and a thick yellow frosting of pollen drifts over the book.
The humidity builds and lines up inside, over their desks and under the fluorescent lights. We open all of the windows as far as they will, but the line never moves. Only when the secretaries violate the fire code and open the front doors, does the air finally begin running out the door.
And the wind follows the Seniors. They scribble their finals, pay their bills, go to the prom, and practice for graduation. On island, we send the kids on their way with a hot, humid, long, and powerful ceremony. In it, the students are the only people seated on stage. They conduct the visitors in, welcome to the speakers to the podium, take their diplomas, and then leave on their own. Neither the superintendent, nor the faculty, nor the school board present them to the public wrapped in black and gold. Instead, they present themselves. “Here we are,” they say, “for better or for worse, we are the best this community could do. You have committed the future to us.”
The seniors may think, in their adolescent rhapsody of self, that the graduation is all about them. Later, they will learn that it is all about us out in the audience. We come to bear witness to the passing of time.
Only the bored and the morose measure time in weeks, days, hours, and months. Those who have hearts measure it in children. We mark it on the door jamb, we put it on the refrigerator, we fill our photo albums, and we load our hard disks with time passing.
On island, those graduates are our best work. Eighteen years of hard work brought them to the door they stand before. We who live in the September and October of our lives, transferred the best of us to those who are in the April and May of theirs.
In the twenty-first century, we have so little to give them for their time. We don’t give our children farms or businesses. We don’t live in a hive of grandparents, uncles and aunts. We don’t live in our father’s towns and, in many cases, our children don’t even live near their fathers. We teach them a little bit of wisdom, we make them listen to the Red Sox, and pat them on the back.
On stage, we see them as others will see them. They can see now, too. Those children who screamed, pouted, and broke curfew now see the door in front of them. The door may open to college, it may open to work, it may open to the French Foreign Legion, but it opens. For our part, the time to teach is over; they will be good fathers, they will be good mothers, they will be stewards of the island and voters and selectmen and yacht club commodores, if we have done our job well. The graduates on the stage have slipped from our grasp now and the moment on the stage is the last moment we have before they are gone from our hands.
Thankfully, June is not only the month of graduation, but also of reunion. Yesterday’s graduates return to the island and their childhood bedrooms. They sleep late, they have bad haircuts, and they stay out deep into the night. But they are back with us. Later in life, they will come back with husbands, children, dirty dishes and attitude, but they come back. Safe in their rooms, or squabbling with their spouses, the floors sound with their voices and their feet and time stops.
Nantucket can seize time. Our clock seems glacial, certainly compared to mainland America’s. Time hasn’t changed the beach, the Juice Bar, Henry’s Jr., the cobblestones, or the moors. Those new changes that appear in June seem only to be rearranging the deck chairs on a stationary ocean liner.
Had I a summer house, like many of those on Baxter Road, I would like to throttle time. I would like my parents, cousins, brother, sister, and children, to return to the house every year. They can track sand in, leave empty beer bottles on the porch, switch the radio station to Rush Limbaugh, and sleep in the mildewy sheets. We can leave the march and creep of time to the mainland, and we can hold the calendar, and our children, still.
It’s a steep bill to stop time. They still don’t give away the tomatoes at Bartlett’s or the linen at Marine Home Center. When they come, child or father, aunt or cousin, they bring all of the annoyances and noise of their lives. Their cell phones chatter, their husbands annoy, and their advice, wrong headed. The floors may sound with their feet again, but it doesn’t need to be at two in the morning.
Still, those who have graduated have come back now. They rest lightly in our hands, for as long as they are here. We cook the long, slow meal through the heat and humidity of the afternoon. In the glow of the evening, we eat the soup, the swordfish, and the apple cobbler as the sun closes in on the horizon. We hold by releasing, and we give so that we may keep this one moment.
Bob Barsanti's novel, Milestone Road, was published last summer. His previously published book of essays about Nantucket, Sand in My Shoes, is available here. He will be featured with local authors on Saturday, June 22nd, as part of the 2013 Nantucket Book Festival.
(Photo Credit: Rob Benchley, Cape Cod Times)