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Volume 37 Issue Four • May 17-23, 2007 now in our 37th season

Fight to Keep the Dreams

by Robert P. Barsanti

At the invitation of a former student, Cecily, I returned to Middlebury to see her senior play.  Vast tides of money have washed over my old school in the twenty years since I graduated and remade it into a buzzing wonderhive of twenty-first century activity.  It is carbon neutral, recycling postive, and politically correct.  All of my old dorm rooms have been Harvardized with functioning locks, high speed internet, and white boards.  The old, quirky, and awkward has been relegated to the recycling while the new is functional, handsome, and efficient.  Their athletic teams now win championships, their plays now win awards, and their graduates get high paying and rewarding jobs, after which they marry each other and move to Connecticut.    It was not the school I attended, and they feel pretty good about that. 

Cecily had invited her family, from the ninety-two-year-old grandfather to the seventeen-year-old sister, to watch her sing and dance on stage while sharing Victoria’s Secret with the audience.  Starring in “Cabaret” is a far cry from The “Sound of Music” and Junior Miss in the high school auditorium.  The Kit Kat Club wasn’t where most parents wanted see their daughters working, even if it was just pretend.  Her grandparents knew what would be happening and bore all of the gyrations and gymnastics on stage with admirable grace.  Her younger sister, fresh from the moral high ground of twelfth grade, looked a little paler.

After the performance and before the cast party flung her back into the whirlwind of youth, Cecily identified two of the players who had accepted jobs with major acting companies.  Others were going off to work in casting, tech crews, and law school.  Their final performance was one of a long list of final events that ran through her hands like sand.  She looked forward to the bright future of talent, wealth, luck, and commitment.  Her dreams rose like a beachball.

Perhaps it will happen for her.

I have grown experienced enough to hold my tongue in the presence of bouncing beachball dreams.   First, some dreams come true.  My former students include professional athletes, models, actors, directors, lawyers, doctors, and rocket scientists.  I have become a poor predictor of success.  More to the point, my students wouldn’t listen anyway.  They don’t want to know about all of the other graduates who were either in police calls or detox mansion.   Were I to roll my eyes or criticize sophomore dreams of NFL and MTV riches, I would be branded a liar, then a dream-killing curmudgeon, then, finally, they would return to texting each other on their cell-phones.

If aging teaches anything, it is that dreams are hard.  The job falls through, someone else wins the audition and the pregnancy test shows a solid blue line.  To keep that dream bouncing, you must sacrifice hope, happiness, sleep, and credit ratings.  In the end, the dreams that become real are splattered with blood, sweat, pain, and compromise.  Time, like gravity, pulls everything back to the mud.  You have to fight like hell to keep the dream floating above it. 

We hide the mud of time on Nantucket.  People pay millions of dollars for houses on our island because they want to come to the place that time forgot.  The beaches will always be open and the ocean will extend out to the infinite horizon.  Main Street will always have its cobblestones and its bricks.  The moors will have fog and blackberries, the dunes will have beach grass, and the waves will hold bluefish and stripers. 

The Juice Bar opened up two weekends ago, just as it has done for years.  I stood on the same old floor, ordered Watermelon Cream from the same woman who had made it for the last ten years, and it tasted as great as it did a decade ago when I tasted my first one.  So it is with most of the successful businesses on-island; their secret is in not changing.  Nantucket may be the only place in the world where old and quirky trumps new and efficient. The old gray lady dreams of the past.

So it has been for Whaler graduates.  Tommy and his friends played football in school and now they play golf.  Tommy and his friends once drank on the beach and now they drink at the Chicken Box.  Tommy and his friends worked with their Dads in the summer and now they work with their Dads in the winter.  Marriage, children, and divorce don’t alter the timelessness of their lives.   They do well, they build houses, they catch fish, and drink cold beer.  Only their cars and their golf clubs change.  It’s a good life.  They only dream of yesterday.

After the first semester, Cecily hadn’t wanted to leave the island; she wanted that good, dreamless life.  She came back in the summer, made boatloads of money waitressing, partied with her friends, and felt the clock stop.  College meant meeting new and strange people, working without pay, and hearing the grinding gears of time and debt.  Dreams are expensive and painful; her life would be so much easier without them.  Her parents, with their own expensive and painful dreams, sent her back to school anyway. 

I sat with her father at a lacrosse game on the day after “Cabaret.”  The College of New Jersey was giving the Lady Panthers all that they could handle in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.  Around us were dozens of parents.  They had taken their daughter to camps, to high school practices, and to club games.  They had taken them to emergency rooms, orthopedic specialists, and rehab sessions.  They had hoped that the admissions office would select their little girl, and then that she would make it through the cuts, and then through Junior Varsity, and then to starting on the Varsity, and then, finally, into the championships.  For ten years, they fought hard to keep that dream out of the mud. 

With five minutes to go, both teams were tied at ten.  Then, after an unfortunate foul, Middlebury scored with thirty seconds left.  The team in white jumped on each other, mountained their flesh, and kicked that dream back up into the air.  The team in blue lined up for a final handshake.

For many of those Garden State parents, the dream had finally hit the muck:  no more games, no more coaches, no more awards, and no more practices.  The Middlebury parents, currently ecstatic, would feel the same in a week when their season ended, one way or another.  The mud would come.

Cecily’s grandparents knew that and it no longer bothered them.  The good church-going folks came to the play dressed in their best clothes and wearing sensible shoes.  They watched as their darling Cecily pretended to be a notorious prostitute.  They saw her shake, shimmy, writhe, and dance in silk and lace.  And they smiled.  They knew one other thing about dreams.  When that ball is up in the air and soaring to the sky, take a moment and enjoy it.  Tomorrow, the ball may find the mud.  But today, it soars upward free from gravity and time.  To feel that transient moment and know how good it is, may be the only reward the dream will ever pay.  If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

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