I was born and raised in New York, but as soon as I was independent, I moved to my first island — Long Island. It’s really an extended sand-spit off the coast of New York. When I was a kid, it was mostly potato farms down the middle and out on the eastern end. Interspersed on the hilly northern side that borders Long Island sound with some of the most expensive mansions in the world. Those are the places you never see homes, just gates. The houses are deep inside the grounds so we plebes never see them.
The north shore of Long Island is hilly and lovely, the south shore faces the Atlantic, where the soft sand beaches are. And of course, the Hamptons. And Jones Beach where I burned my feet on the asphalt and torched my too-pale hide in the sun until one fantastic year they invented sunscreen and life got a lot better.
I left Long Island in 1978 and went to Israel … not an actual island, but in some ways, very “island” in its world-view. When you are surrounded by hostile frontiers in every direction, it’s hard not to feel like as if you are island-bound.
When I came back to the states in 1987, Garry started toting me off for summertime fun on Martha’s Vineyard which is a wonderful island that glories in its island-ness. It is a world of its own with an old carousel in the middle, the Flying Horses. We summered there for more than a decade and only stopped when Garry and I were no longer working and could not afford it. After we moved to the country, it somehow seemed unnecessary to “get away from it all.” We were already living away from it all.
John Donne, an Elizabethan poet of renown, said:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
It’s a famous poem. Oft quoted and misquoted, and set to music too. Elegant.
The music of poetry notwithstanding, I believe all of us are islands. No matter how much we share in common with others, in the end, we stand as individuals, we are responsible for ourselves, for our actions. For what we do and fail to do.
However involved we are in the fate of mankind, we can’t escape being individuals with business to take care of. Humanism doesn’t give anyone a pass from personal responsibility.