Almost unnoticed behind the mass of Vancouver Island, sheltered in the straight, lie fragments of the North American continent scattered in profusion. Among this carelessly strewn chain of misty green spangled jewels lies Saltspring Island. A tiny dot on the globe. An infinitesimal speck in the universe. The place we call home.
For centuries, travelers, voyageurs and dreamers have wandered here. And they still do. Streaming to and from the ferry terminals, the float plane docks and the marinas a constant and ever changing mass of humanity invades this sleepy little island community day after day. This island refuge over the years has meant so many things to so many different people. But most of all it is somehow a special place. A sanctuary. A healing place.
It is difficult to say why. Perhaps it is the secluded and safe isolation. Perhaps it is the majestic and unforgettable blend of seashore, natural beauty and peaceful quietude. Perhaps it is the carefree, casual and expansive freedom from the pressurized, dehumanized and frenetic congestion that has overwhelmed urban life elsewhere.
All I know is that our lives are somehow transformed and elevated simply because we live here. Sure, we have our problems. Everyone here has a different opinion on just about everything. Acquiescent, malleable and conventional people do not venture across oceans to pioneer and settle isolated, strange lands. Islanders are always contrary, individualistic and hard to contain. And it is not perfect here. There are the haunting social terrors of addiction, abuse, mental anguish and breakdown. We still have disease and crime.
People still rip you off, or steal from you. And every flaw, weakness and inhumanity festering in our civilization everywhere have their vestige and trace here. But somehow all these negatives are not quite as stark and shattering. Something else somehow factors into the equation.
And I think that late one dark, icy night a few winters ago it finally became clear to me what that special thing is that we have here. My son was due at a hockey practice over in the arena at Fuller Lake, and I was hurrying to catch the inevitable ferry along Vesuvius Bay Road. It was past 7 in the dark and too late I realized that there was black ice on the turn. The wheels locked and we careened off the road into the ditch. Wham!
Luckily we were both unhurt, but the car was badly damaged. After sending my son home with a friend, I stayed at the scene awaiting the tow truck. And it was there, standing beside my crumpled car in the ditch with my flashers on in the dark, that it happened.
Not one car that passed me failed to stop, roll down the window and ask; “You OK?” “Need some help?” “Anything we can do?” Every car. It was a revelation. EVERY CAR.
It’s no secret that we live in a world that is daily growing colder. No matter where you turn one simple human life is becoming more unimportant and inconsequential.
Read the papers. Listen to the news. Where do you really fit in? Where are YOU important in the overall scheme of things?
Huge and powerful multinational conglomerates. New World Order. Economic restructuring and restraint. World financial market instability. Genetic engineering. Government bureaucracy and cutbacks. Social disintegration. Family meltdown. Profit. Taxes. Productivity. Efficiency experts. Downsizing. Genocide. Terror.
Who really cares about you? More and more it seems that the answer is nobody. Nobody cares. Except here. Here on Saltspring we still care for each other. Damned if I know how it has survived. Damned if I know why. But late one wintry night I found out. We do.
They call it community. Across the waters it has become a rare and priceless commodity. Maybe no one has realized that it is the glue that holds our whole civilization together. Perhaps most of all it is why they all still journey here to Saltspring. To be part of that caring, that sense of community.
Our troubled, torn world needs to find that sense of community. And we need to find it soon. If we are to survive as a species all of us have to reach beyond all this madness and desperation that haunts us everywhere today and find the common threads that will turn brutality and inhumanity into community.
All of us do live on an island. Island Earth. It begins with you. It begins with me. How we care for each other. The simple truth is that no one will care for us unless we begin to truly care for each other. The idea of a world community truly begins when each of us know with deep, steadfast and unwavering conviction that we will either live together, or die apart.
And that we care. We really do.