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Volume 38 Issue 9 • June 23 - July 2, 2008
now in our 38th season

Sunday Morning

by Robert P. Barsanti

Main Street has many comfortable seats on a Sunday morning.   The dramas and excitement of Saturday night have washed or rolled down the cobbles, and Sunday morning comes gleaming up the harbor.  It dapples the bricks through the elms, reflects off the gallery windows, and lights up my coffee cup.  The air is cool and clear, the traffic light, and the parade interesting.

The running shoes and sunglasses rushed by at a healthy pace in both their legs and their lips.  Untied running shoes pushed a carriage by while Mommy remained home and asleep.  Flip-flops came up the street, picked up a rack of coffees and a bag of danishes, then headed back down.  Sandals did some window-shopping and hand-holding while high-tops was patient.  Dress shoes and her grandson walked past, holding the blue lettered missal. 

No one carried a newspaper.

They carried cell-phones, ipods, and water bottles.  Some had last night’s clutch and this morning’s coffee.  Hands held hands, held jackets, held shopping bags, and held fun little strappy sandles that would break on the stones. But no books, no papers, and no magazines.

Once in my recent past, I had had the pleasure of having a newspaper reserved for me at the Hub.  On Sunday morning, I would slip past the congested traffic that circled the counter, pick the rolled up paper that had been left for me, then back outside to enjoy Doonesbury, Funky Winkerbean, and Will McDonogh on my own.  The reserved box wasn’t only necessary to reconfirm my overly inflated sense of self-worth, it was also necessary to insure you got a paper.  Only so many newspapers arrived on the island at any time.  As soon as they were gone, you were out of luck. 

Twenty years later, the special Boston Globe Celtics Commemorative waited for the readers. We live in a different time, and no one can put the Internet back in its box.  We watch, but don’t read.  Technology has flowed over us.  I can find Obama’s latest speech and McCain’s rebuttal ten minutes after each was released.  My news has been Googled, Twittered, and Facebooked.  It gets streamed to me in a RSS feed that pops up on my cell-phone instants later. 

And I am no Luddite.  I prefer to watch my home runs on Sportscenter than reading them in the Herald.  I wouldn’t have the cell-phone towers torn down, the cable to the mainland sliced, or the satellite dishes filled with cole slaw and potato salad.  My students send their homework to me by e-mail, I have found and “friended” my old college chums, and I can text with the other middle aged men.  But, on Sunday morning, I wonder if I am using the technology or being used by it.

Reading (as you know, dear reader) requires a calorie burn.  The words rise up off the page and into your mind like so many Lego blocks, falling into people, places, and positions.  They never wind up exactly as the writer intended, but he isn’t doing the building, is he?  On the other hand, viewing puts the Lego ships, houses, and people into your mind wholly intact.  You need not assemble, you need not experiment, you need not test anything else. 

You can fail at Lego assembly, just as you can fail at reading.  Happens all the time.  It is supposed to be a race car, but you can’t make the bricks click and stay.  One moment you are sitting in a comfortable chair with a cold beverage and the next you can’t make heads or tales out of Melville, Joyce, or Jodi Picoult.  A June morning in Dublin remains a pile of words and Lego bricks.  You fail at it, you give up, and you turn on the TV. 

 In our modern electronic world, no one fails.  No one goes bankrupt in Monopoly or gets lost on the ladders in Candyland or is stuck with half a pie in Trivial Pursuit.  Our electronic world is one where you either win or you drop out.  Every game is solitaire; when you get dealt a bad hand, you just redeal.  You never fail on the Halo.  Master Chief revives eventually and gets to finally nail those Major Elites.  The game either ends with victory or an empty slushy.

I have many students that are home looking for their own reset buttons.  In one sophomore class, twenty students dropped out or transferred to the John Madden School of Digital Victory.  Their parents signed the form and they left for the sofa.  Now, they are trying for the pros in Fat Kid Sports. 

These are the unlucky ones.  Their parents successfully protected them from failure then they brought the brownies and the Mountain Dew bottles up to their rooms.  Reset to next year, and maybe they will get a different teacher who won’t make them read.  Reset, and maybe they will get a different boss, different husband, different kids, different life.

The lucky ones failed the class.  Reading and writing is hard if you don’t do it often.  They fail because they were too amused by their friends and their phones; they fail because they can’t imagine what the Sea looks like next to the Old Man or what Satis House must be like.  Pip loses out to the Master Chief every time they come to contest.  Now, in June, these students come up short and have to look at failure in the eye.

You have to own failure.  You have to pay for it, get the receipt, and put  it on the front seat of the car next to you.  You need to stare at it and accept it; your very best just wasn’t good enough.  It happened to Steven Jobs.  He failed out of college, then got fired from the company that he founded.  It happened to Oprah Winfrey.  She didn’t change her name to Suzy, she got bored, and she pronounced “Canada” wrong.  They were lucky in failure and they learned.

Many students failed my class in the last twenty years.  Very few are awaiting sentencing.  One is a Marine sniper in Iraq, another is vice president of a bank, another runs his own flooring company, and another has just finished his E.M.T. training.  They have become good citizens, respected parents, and employers.  The beauty of Nantucket is that you can see, on a daily basis, how well they got over that F.  They all figured out how to read.

The bells call the sandals and loafers to ten o’clock mass.  The summer special walks up the sidewalk, chalking tires for the first ticketing of the morning.  The heat has started to build and first whisps of high haze appear in between the branches.  The galleries and clothing stores have unlocked the doors, although no one is quite ready to make a sale.  The lines have started to form in front of Arno’s and Even Keel and the newspapers have, finally, begun to blossom.

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