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Volume 38 Issue 7 • June 12 - 18, 2008
now in our 38th season

Defining Success

by Robert P. Barsanti

June is an odd month on island.  On one hand, the trees have filled out, the fish are running, and the golf courses beckon.  On the other, a blue line of fog rolls in and chills the island back into March.  When the rest of New England is in shorts, tank tops and sunscreen, we are reaching for the polar fleece. 

School is ending in a slow, drawn-out cadence.  On Thursday night, the seniors went to their Ball at the Yacht Club, got their yearbooks, then graduated on Saturday under the glowing words of their Valedictorian.   The Figawis have raced over and found a winner.  The Iron Man has just swum, paddled, biked, and ran the island until the best emerged to break the tape at the Box.  Even with a darkened and looted main theater, the Film Festival will choose which successful movies to send to networks and studios.

However, the successful people haven’t arrived yet.  Their Gulfstreams are still in Pennsylvania, their BMW’s and Escalades are still in the garages, the lights in Sconset and Monomoy are dark, and the tennis courts are empty.  They remain at off-island fundraisers for the Free Library and the Zoo.

Times are tough this June.  Gas prices have ricocheted through our wallets and into all of our bills.  The realtors sit around the office staring at each other, then they go to lunch.  The windmill has begun milling corn, although they may be stockpiling the meal for next winter.  Plenty of tables for dinner, plenty of rooms at the inns, plenty of parking places downtown—every June is like this.  Eventually, the country’s financial M.V.P.s will come in from Darien, Bryn Mawr, Simsbury, Wellesley, and Princeton, and reclaim the Yacht Club ballroom from our kids.  Such are the prizes of success in America these days.

June happens to be the month for tee-ball.  The fields have felt enough rain and sun to turn green again.  As long as the fog holds off, the wind dies down, and the rain stays south, we can finally play some ball.  We pack the kids in sweatshirts, bring a blanket, and go to the games.

Tee Ball is a perfect socialist sport.  No one wins.  No one loses.  The rules have been written in sand below the tideline.  There are no statistics, there are no standings, there are no strikes.  The Cisco Surfers line up and everyone gets a swing and a single.  After everyone in orange gets a turn at bat, they stand in the field with gloves on while the Nantucket Reds (or the Madaket Minnows) take their turns hitting singles.  The occasional line drive flies over the fielder’s heads into the storied land of Manny and Big Papi.  Even more rarely, a ball will land in an outstretched hand for an out. The game proceeds as competitively as a parade to the lunchroom.   I don’t know how to fill out the Tee-ball All-Star Ballot, never mind who is going to get the championship trophy.

If you want to know who Nantucket is, come to these games.  You won’t find many Ivy League graduates, nor many of the Forbes 400, nor many members of the Founder’s Circle.  Instead, you will find nurses, sandwich makers, bartenders, cement workers, short order cooks, and teachers.  No one went to Phillips Andover or St. Paul’s in order to prepare for our jobs.

We knew each other’s secret shames. We’ve been fired, divorced, addicted, abandoned, evicted, bankrupted, foreclosed, or held back.  We’ve bounced checks; we have driven drunk; we’ve had broken hearts…we’ve dodged creditors, we have been served, and we have disappointed.  We know how to file for unemployment, know where the district court is, and we know how to punch the clock and then watch it for hours.  We know our rights as tenants, and we know how to make meals out of beans.  We know who we are.

We are parents.  We have been around enough success to know that it runs off before Labor Day.  We know enough failure to know that it waits around until you kick it out the door and change the locks.   From our perspective, success is survival’s younger brother.

We don’t define success the same way that the Valedictorian at Yale might, nor as the President of the New York Bar Association would, nor even as the Commodore of the Yacht Club might.  We want our kids to be happy.  We want them to have some free time.  We want them to be respected.  We want them to give back.  If they can be partners in a Wall Street law firm or in a Main Line brokerage, so much the better.

But we want them to be coaches.

We want them to show up.  They aren’t going to get paid, they aren’t going to fluff their resumes.  They won’t find a sensai to lead them to the executive washroom from their positions on the tee-ball field.  We want them to show up for every practice because a lot of little guys are expecting and looking forward to it.  We want them to show-up because so much of life depends on just being present.

We want them to have patience and humor, instead of a game face.  The kids are going to forget to run to first.  Batters are going to swing, miss, and fall down.  No matter how much you rant and rail, they aren’t going to hit the cutoff man.  Patience and humor outlast and outwit the competitive instinct through years and decades.

We want them to have some free time.  No one should have billable hours on the ballfield, nor should they be checking their Blackberrys between innings.  The real wealth isn’t cash, but time.  Success doesn’t come from trading time for money but in being able to keep the time away from the money.  If our kids can keep a few hours free each week from husbands, wives, clients and employers, they can invest it in themselves.  And then they can invest themselves into a fund that pays long-term dividends: the community of the ball field.

The community of the ball field lasts longer than the community of the golf club.  It stretches through bankruptcies and lottery wins, through marriage and divorce, through youth and old age.  The yearly dues are measured in hours and grass stains.  But, if you pay them, you always have a place to stay, always have a friend, always have a smile in a crowded room.  You know who will come to your funeral.  If you’re lucky, they will wear their uniforms into the church.

Willy Loman never coached.  The success he raced outpaced him and left him with two failed sons, angry ghosts, and suicide.  His failure echoes in the foreclosures, hedge fund reversals, and mortgage fund indictments of July and August.  He owes $700,000 to his Playboy mistress and $150,000 to the wiseguys in Vegas.  He stands on the eleventh tee with his Blackberry, his scorecard, and his clients, but his success has flown over the mountains of the moon.   He awaits sentencing in September.

The rest of us met the success he missed.  It is here in June.  It coaches tee ball.

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