Sections

12.1.18

From the Editor

Exactly two years ago we ran a picture of the historic Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven on the cover of this magazine. The place looked haunted. Almost boarded up and almost falling down, it was more Halloween than holiday, more hopeless than happening. We put it on the cover because after many years and a few false starts the Martha’s Vineyard Museum had irreversibly committed itself to preserving and transforming the old landmark into a new home for itself. (And, full disclosure, I had recently joined the museum’s board of directors.)

What a difference two years can make. That is, two years of beehive-like activity by the museum’s leadership, staff, and countless architects, designers, archeologists, and tradespeople of all sorts. Though the big celebration will take place in summer, during the months that this issue of the magazine is on newsstands the once forlorn building will quietly open to the public as the spectacularly restored and renovated Martha’s Vineyard Museum. 

Of course, there is still much to be done and more money to be raised, but the new galleries and archival spaces will at last be worthy of the world-class collection spanning 11,000 years of human history in the region. The myriad ongoing collaborations the museum has with the Island’s schools, elderly populations, and scholars will at last have room to breathe. The front lawn, with sweeping views of the Lagoon and harbor, will become welcome public space for a town that is woefully short on it.

But to me, the importance of a forum dedicated to exploring the past goes beyond whatever treasures may be on display at any given time. I’m not talking about that venerable chestnut that “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” And though there is merit to the idea that celebrating our “shared past” is a tonic for what ails us in an era that feels increasingly divided, it’s not that either. Because despite what you may have heard, “the past” is neither a singular thing nor is it really “shared.”

Rather, it is the countless unique and different pasts that together make up the only two things we inarguably do share: the present and the future. Without a place to honor, explore, debate, create, and preserve the meaning of those countless threads of experience that make the Martha’s Vineyard of today special to each of us, we will be woefully unprepared to face the many changes the future will inevitably require. Without knowing what we have, how can we know what we stand to lose?

But there’s even a better reason to welcome and celebrate the new museum and the opportunities it will provide to all of us. It’s the sports fan who knows the rules and the lore of the game who enjoys it most. The educated foodie savors the sauce more than the shameless slurper. The sailor listens to the wind, and the angler is a  connoisseur of the habits of diving birds.

So it is with living life in the present, which after all is the only choice we as humans really have. The more we are curious about the countless routes we all traveled to get to the present, the more we can revel in it together.

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