Who Says We Can’t?

In Harbor of Refuge, the Commodore’s wife, Judy Hennel, explains to newcomer Marilyn Dupré that, in spite of Bonita Key Yacht Club’s stand-offish reputation, the members were “really a family.” And, when Marilyn questions that statement, thinking about the fact that one of her employers had waited over a year to simply get a membership application, Judy replies “Well, you wouldn’t let just anyone into your family, would you?”

As we enter the 4th month of a nationwide “lockdown” intended to at least slow the progress of a deadly new virus, Judy Hennel’s words should strike home to many Americans who have never heard her name or read the romantic novel that lovingly teaches many of life’s greatest lessons.

It seems that, as “Grandma Calkins” told Marilyn, “we cannot live without love,” and, for many of us who are deprived of family love by distance or age or, perhaps–in very sad cases–sheer bullheadedness, we need clubs to fill that void. So whether you prefer a bridge club where people sit around a card table; or a garden club, where they plant flowers, pull weeds, and show off the result of their work to other members; or, yes, a yacht club–like the one in Harbor of Refuge–where people hang around boats, it all comes down to the same thing: each of us is seeking family. We are longing for that place where we can be ourselves, where–as in the days of our youth–nobody raised hell about Uncle Benny falling asleep (with his cigar still lit) after Thanksgiving dinner; where the table was cleared and the cards brought out for some new game (like “Spit in the Ocean”), and everyone who was not sleeping off a huge meal joined in. “Those were the days,” we tell ourselves; and we tell each other. “Those were the really good times when we could be ourselves. We didn’t talk ‘politics’; we didn’t discuss religion. We talked about the family and told our stories and joked and laughed–and sometimes cried–remembering all of the times that had brought us to this place and time. It’s a shame we can’t do that anymore!”

“Who Says We Can’t?” It is the question of our times. We are told we must use email rather than send thank-you cards and personal letters written on stationary and signed with ink. We “must have” voice mail and, if the person we are calling is not available, we must leave voicemail and not take the time to call back because we’re much too busy. Worst of all, we have obligated ourselves to expose our innermost thoughts and opinions to the whole world on Facebook and Twitter. We now share ideas that we never would have shared around the family’s dining room table.  We here at Calkins Harbor are not about to throw shoes into the machinery of twenty-first century life. Indeed, there are some things that are very good; this electronic newsletter which comes to you free of charge, is one of them. Back in the day, it would not have been possible without a subscription fee or a very wealthy “angel.” But at the same time, there are many–far too many–aspects of modern-day communication that are destroying what was once a polite society.

Readers who were not subjected to “American Literature” in college may not have heard of Nathanial Hawthorne (1837-1842). (If you are one of those fortunate people who escaped, pause for a moment and give thanks!). In his novel Ethan Brand, Hawthorne’s main character searches for what might be the “Unpardonable Sin,” which he finally defines as the separation of the intellect and the heart; of losing one’s “hold of the magnetic chain of humanity.” It is, he says, “The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man, and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims!” Almost a century and a half after Hawthorne wrote those words, we here at Calkins Harbor respectfully suggest it is time to consider them–carefully. It might even be interesting to turn off the TV and skip classics like “American Idol” and actually read Ethan Brand.

Are we falling–perhaps unknowing, unintentionally–into the trap described in that novel? Are we allowing a “sense of intellect”–right or wrong “intellect”–triumph over our sense of brotherhood with men and women? Is it time, politely but firmly, to discipline ourselves: to put our intellects aside and return to the essential brotherhood of our fellow human beings? Only you can decide. But your decision may well affect whether your club will survive the current crisis.

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