I split my time between New York and Chilmark and wanted to come to the Island during this challenging and scary time, but I’m hearing a lot of negativity from Islanders. What gives with that? I’m a tax-paying homeowner with Island roots going back four generations, and I’d be living in Chilmark full-time if my job allowed it. We are fully integrated into the up-Island community, we donate and volunteer our time to Vineyard charities. At this moment in time when we all need to pull together, why are people copping an attitude toward us?
As you have surely noticed, seasonal residents are fleeing their home communities, most of which have significant infection rates (I’m looking at you, NYC and Boston). For now it’s just about Film-Festival-level busy and we can handle that — but the CDC says this will get worse before it gets better, meaning we could soon be at August-level crazy, without August-level resources to support the population change (e.g. expanded hospital staff), especially now that supply lines everywhere are growing increasingly fragile. How can we tell the seasonals to stop coming, without being accused of being assholes?
Dear SHO and FTI,
In case you don’t want to read the rest of this, here’s the only thing that ultimately matters in this extraordinary time: Which actions of yours hold the least possible potential for harm? Choose those actions.
If you want to stick with me while I unpack that a little, let’s go.
The “rights” or “belongingness” of part-timers is a perennial debate, habanero-level hot, but it’s irrelevant here. (For the record, painting all part-timers with the same brush is inappropriate, but also irrelevant here.) What matters right now isn’t labels, or snobbery, or reverse-snobbery, or the numbers of homes, or the number of weeks or months you spend here, or where you grew up, or where you were born, or where your great-grandmother was born, or how much you pay in taxes, or who your friends are, or even what you prefer to do right now. It will be really fun (or something) to return to arguing about all that later on. What matters now is to refrain from doing things that have the potential to cause harm.
I’m using the word “potential” because nobody knows enough to state with certainty what the outer bounds are of what could cause harm. New data comes daily, sometimes hourly, and there is a remarkable amount of misinformation floating about, so if you’ve decided you “know” what’s harmful and what’s safe, please consider the possibility that your knowledge isn’t perfect, and please be open to new data.
I’ve started writing half a dozen paragraphs addressing this partisan, us/them divide, but I deleted all of them because this column is not the place for those conversations.
From the point of view of good etiquette, everybody — EVERYBODY — needs to calm down. But don’t replace panic with complacency. Exhibit kindness toward each other. The best way to do that isn’t to complain that other people are not being kind toward you. Just start being kind toward them and you might be pleasantly surprised by what happens. Even if they don’t mirror your behavior, keep being kind because that’s the right thing to do. But again, it’s not the point here. The point is to make choices that risk the least possible harm to everyone for now.
To SHO: to have a choice about where to go during a pandemic is a privilege. Most people don’t have a choice. Be responsible when exercising your privilege. If you can tell your children, your parents, and your mirror with absolute certainty that your choice to come to the Island now has the potential for less public-health harm than any other choice (for instance, staying put in your primary home) — if you have rock-solid moral clarity about that, then it’s not for me to tell you otherwise. I’m not inside your head.
But it would be all kinds of awesome if you included this in your reasoning, from Dr. Graham Medley of the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Infection: “Imagine that you do have the virus, and change your behavior so that you’re not transmitting it. Don’t think about changing your behavior so that you won’t get it, think about changing your behavior so you don’t give it to somebody else.” This advice has nothing to do with where you pay taxes, or how many hospital beds are available, or what you feel like doing. This is just about your personal behavior, which makes it perfect for an etiquette column.
(If you’re still coming, please bring your own food and supplies, and maybe something extra for Elderly Housing and the Food Pantry. Bring some extra intubation supplies if you happen to have them, too.)
To AFTI: Don’t cop an attitude. Are you being a little lax about the social-distancing thing because you’ve convinced yourself you couldn’t possibly be a carrier? Are you hoarding groceries or toilet paper? Then you’re not being a good Islander, because good Islanders are looking out for the collective needs of the community. Have you bought a tad more canned goods and pasta than you really need to, but believe that because your eggs come from your own chickens, it somehow evens out? It doesn’t. Dr. Medley’s advice is just as crucial for you to follow so I’ll repeat it here: “Imagine that you do have the virus, and change your behavior so that you’re not transmitting it. Don’t think about changing your behavior so that you won’t get it, think about changing your behavior so you don’t give it to somebody else.” If you’re not doing that, then even if nobody in your family has ever set foot off the Island since 1602, you’re not being a good Islander. A final note: Overt nastiness toward part-timers doesn’t get you anywhere, and just poisons the well we’ll all be drinking out of again when we’re over this.
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Her most recent novel, “On the Same Page,” is set on the Island in winter and concerns itself with Island newspapers. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to onIsland@mvtimes.com.