Wouldn't It Be a Shame?
The rain I hear is before first light, pounding on the windows, reminding me, yet again, how fortunate in puppy terms, I have been with Autumn. By early afternoon, following a few moments of hopefully clearing sky, a heavy mist clings to the branches and fills the air with moisture. There was a downpour, I can tell by the puddles in my road, mere shallow depressions where last year — before the Great Road Repair — there were great hollows, crater lakes that lasted and lasted and lasted after a storm.
Now, I feel the wet air but look to the surfaces of the puddles which tell me what I want to hear. They are smooth, unbroken by the overlapping concentric circles that speak of real rain. We reach the gate and my hat is wet, my glasses covered with water and Autumn is soaked but in the way of these golden dogs, oblivious to it.
It is December and they are talking of snow tomorrow.
Last December we were watching our roads be rebuilt, racing against the onset of winter, as we were reeling over the school shooting tragedy in nearby Newtown, Connecticut. The aftermath of two storms, Superstorm Sandy and the wholesale slaughter at Sandy Hook, were represented in the Malcolm Greenaway Gallery windows last summer.
Our roads were rebuilt by Christmas, photographs of them seemed images from another lifetime, as distant as the Yankee at the Old Harbor wharf shot through the wavy glass of the Ragged Sailor Gallery window.
The reactions were fascinating. Many, many people said they had no idea we had sustained such damage, that it did not make headline news beyond Rhode Island, and only fleetingly here. It was odd, I would tell people, there was destruction to the Neck Road and the whole of the east beach beyond anything I had seen in my lifetime but, overall, we were extraordinarily fortunate.
It wasn’t as bad as ’54 people who had no more memory of it than I would say and I had a difficult time making a like call. While we did not sustain a direct hit, the eye of the storm did not pass over us, the winds never reached even winter storm velocities, we did lose that section of the Neck Road. It was inevitable, we came close a few springs back when a gale ran through three high tides and the angry ocean gnawed at the edges of the pavement but the scale of last fall’s destruction was unprecedented.
Others, who read The Block Island Times through the winter and scour the web for images and videos, were amazed we were whole come summer. The first day someone said “your governor really came through for you” it came as a surprise, as did the same comment about the Congressional delegation and the town management.
Those are the days we realize we are so disinclined to see what we, our town with whatever help from whatever source, accomplishes. Then, of course, were the voices reluctant to credit the town, state or feds, which sort of left... magic.
There are two photographs of the Neck Road still in the gallery window, looking in different directions. In one the ocean is evident, the culprit; the other includes no ocean, no shoreline and could be a war zone in another part of the world.
The photos related to the tragedy in Newtown were bittersweet. The main ones were taken at whatever Giants stadium is called these days when the team invited families from Newtown to attend. There is a school photo of a little boy, Jack Pinto, who was buried in a jersey bearing the name of his hero, Victor Cruz, a football player. People would stop and ask the connection (Malcolm, as everyone here knows, is living his dream, on the field with his cameras at Giants home games); a great number of the people who visit this Island are from that part of Connecticut.
Overall the reaction was uplifting, an extraordinary number of people from Newtown and the area immediately surrounding stopped, some knowing people in the shots taken on the field (“he’s my painter!”) and many others with their own stories. A grandchild lost, a child newly enrolled not in class that day, a niece who was one of the teachers who stood in the door to her classroom which, by some miracle, the shooter passed. “She hasn’t talked” her uncle said and it was a while before I realized he meant she had not talked of that day, not that she was still in mute shock.
A line in my notebook reads “Today a young man stopped; he worked with Jack Pinto’s father.”
The reactions were uplifting and they were disturbing.
One day a young man, still in high school I would guess, stopped briefly and said “thank you for remembering us” and I was startled that he could think anyone could forget. Another line in my notebook, written that same day: “They are only kids but still I said ‘out!’ and when they looked smuggly surprised I told them the image was of the gun that had killed the little boy in the picture next to it.”
It was toward the end of summer, it was the fourth time such a thing had happened but this was different, they did not slink away realizing what they had done. They were kids but not so young they would have been shielded from the news and I was left wondering if attention spans have become that short, memories that weak and these horrors so common that they have no impact.
I knew I had somewhere saved the words of — of all things — a late night comedy show host. I had thought they were spoken after Newtown; but they came after the Tucson, Arizona shooting.
“Because someone or something will shatter our world again. And wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?”