As Cape Codders, we know a great deal about living at the margin of abutting elements: land and sea, past and future.
The present doesn’t really exist; we try to register it and...oops...it’s already gone by.
Let’s say, then, that the land is the solid ground of the past, the foundation of our memories. We can stand or walk around there as we do on the shoreline. But we know we can only walk out so far before we, without a boat or other conveyance, can no longer stand.
Because the sea, to continue the analogy, is the future, the possibilities of tomorrow, for well or for ill—and with each new second, we move toward something unknown and potentially unsupportable.
As with coastal geography, so goes recent history.
We have heard from many people, and have sometimes said ourselves, that the hoped-for future—the end of the pandemic—is taking much too long to arrive. Are we really meant, we say, to relive the lockdowns and uncertainties of 2020 in 2021? Will the virus still be menacing us for years to come? Is something worse around the corner?
It is as though we are forgetting our chosen place on the margin, expecting the open ocean of the future to be as firm as the trodden earth of the past.
We might think the vaccines will be our boats, our ocean-going, future-fording vehicles. And if we are fortunate, these amazing medical technologies that appeared so quickly...yet are still so slow to come within arm’s length for most of us who, our sleeves rolled up, are ready and waiting for them...will become just that: places to stand, mobile bridges on which we will keep walking forward.
But no matter how far out we travel, our basic position will not actually have changed. We will still be standing on the shore gazing out at the sea. We are always, in a sense, stranded.
The poet Robert Frost had something to say about this human dilemma in his “Neither Out Far Nor in Deep.” To quote one stanza:
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
Some find the sea anxiety-producing; others, exhilarating. It depends on one’s mindset in the moment.
Either way, it is good, we think, at a precarious point like this to remember why we chose to live on the margin and to recognize what hardy New England strengths we have found here on the Upper Cape.