What Really Matters?
Monhegan is a particular place that has existed for a long time; humans have lived on or visited it for only part of that time. As always, we humans live in between the past and the future. We hope to continue to learn from the past and carry some of our own learning forward for others into the future. Each time has uniqueness. Our particular time faces challenges similar and different to those before. Certainly the hearts of people have not really changed; but, technology has, and the speed with which our actions impact others has increased.
What does Monhegan mean for those of us who love it? For some, Monhegan is a way of life, generations long, a year round home and livelihood, the grounding of family over time. I cannot speak to this view, but I can appreciate it. My own family roots are deep in the WVA mountains, and I know from the stories of past generations how this cherished “home place” for so many in my family continues to influence even those who for 2 generations now have not actually lived in those mountains. I know where to find that little unlabeled graveyard where my relatives from the early 1800s are buried. I know their names and some of their stories. I see and experience first-hand the flowing through time of past into present. So, I can imagine how deep family ties to Monhegan run. But, I am not part of that. Some of my extended family re-located to Damariscotta when I was in high school – Monhegan appeared then on the horizon of my life.
Monhegan for others is a place for people to visit for a day, a week, a month, or a season. Unsurpassed beauty and simple living is offered. What else really matters? I can only speak from the vantage point of one who visits Monhegan to be renewed for one precious week in late summer/early fall. How is it that Monhegan continues to call to me throughout the year? How is it that I visit Monhegan Commons almost daily? What is Monhegan from this vantage point?
Monhegan offers, for those who are able to see, a way to be reminded of what really matters in life. The island is small enough to help one experience how all of life is intertwined:
How one walks makes a difference. Does one walk “only on the trail”?
Does one walk slowly enough to see the light through the trees, to see the bug trying to cross the trail, to see the small mammal attempting (unsuccessfully) to hide (tails have a way of sticking out), to hear waves and gulls when only forest is visible, to smell the changes with nearness to or distance from the ocean, to feel the changes in temperature between different microclimates, and to relish in the sheer joy of being alive and part of it all?
Sitting while watching and listening to waves defies description. Where does one “go” while spending an afternoon ocean-side? Perhaps we get lost in vastness. Perhaps we experience humility. These waves were here before I was and will be here after I am long gone. How many people throughout the ages have been nourished in body, mind, and soul by this very same water? What is it about the ocean that puts everything in perspective? How wonderful to be faced with something we cannot control. How long before we learn that there is little we can control; that is, other than ourselves and how we interact with our world?
The ocean intersects sky. The enormousness of the sky, day or night, is breathtaking. Words do not describe this beauty. A photograph cannot capture the immensity nor the subtle color variations each sunrise and sunset. An artist can come close. This sky is one to be experienced, for the sky is not separate from the ocean. The two blur together and feed all the senses. And, before them both, we are small.
On this particular oasis, surrounded by vastness, we become aware that how one greets or not greets others has an impact. Island inhabitants, I suspect, cherish privacy. How does one acknowledge the existence of a fellow-traveler in this life without being intrusive? We impact others constantly, no matter where we live, but Monhegan offers an opportunity to realize this in a different way.
On an island, one recognizes, without a degree in environmental science, that trash is a problem. Why does our food have to be wrapped in sixteen layers of plastic and put on a Styrofoam tray? Why shouldn’t my trash be taken care of by me? What would happen on the mainland if everyone “packed in and packed out” all that they used each day? Garbage really doesn’t just disappear. If a child drops a gum wrapper one day, they might just see it the next day. This is a lesson that will be remembered. If a child searching for sea glass on swim beach finds a washed up Styrofoam cup, that visual “assault” may make an impression.
What better place to connect to our world than on and through Monhegan?
Imaginations can run unencumbered by expectations created by modern marketing. One can explore and recognize oneself as a part of nature, not separate from it. This is true for adults as well as children. Perhaps if one has this awareness early on, one will take great care in respecting and caring for this world of which we are a physical part for a relatively short time.
Monhegan simply offers life to all who visit; an interconnected life within the power and beauty of nature itself. What better way to be reminded of “what really matters”. One can sense, in this environment, that there is something bigger than us, perhaps even sense that “Reality is permeated, indeed flooded, with divine creativity, nourishment, and care.”* Monhegan offers a place for those who visit to rest in awareness of the presence of God. Maybe a place to discover that in a new way…no matter what your faith tradition, no matter what word you might choose to use to express the Divine. What does really matter for you?
So for those of us who visit Monhegan, but find it calling to us during the rest of the year, Monhegan Commons may be a way to share what it is that we bring back from Monhegan into our daily lives that makes us want to return to “re-charge our Monhegan batteries”. Sharing that online may help keep it alive for us in between visits and may even help those who cannot manage a visit to experience a taste of “what really matters” vicariously. Perhaps it can help us all define “what really matters” for ourselves in a way that will make the world a better place. Monhegan is a microcosm. Why not apply the principles of “Monhegan living” as we struggle to care for and interact with our larger world?
*Marcus J. Borg; “Conflict, Holiness, and Politics”