You can feel it as you walk down Commercial Street. There are more people out and about, of course, peering hopefully into the windows of still-closed shops, wandering down the middle of the street even though there really is still room on the sidewalks. There’s the sound of work, of rehabbing winter damage, of adding that new railing or finishing off a deck, the whines of the drills echoing down to the harbor. And of course there are the flowers, the first ones, the crocuses and daffodils and finally, finally, the forsythia, saying that the earth has tilted again and spring really will come.
It’s always been one of my favorite times, seeing the town come alive again, casting off the cold, seeing people smiling, feeling that extra swing in my step. And I feel it this year, too, of course; but there’s a sort of foreboding that follows it, like the first twinge of toothache, a harbinger of mysterious painful things to come. Because this year is different from other years: this year, the world really has tilted, and no one knows what this spring or summer might bring.
There’s fear, of course. Shopkeepers and innkeepers and restaurant owners worry that new immigration restrictions will leave them with inadequate numbers of seasonal workers. And no one knows if there will even be Provincetown’s usual throngs of people swelling Commercial Street, giving us all the seasonal income that’s our bread and butter. What if this year is indeed different from every other year? What if the hapless tragedy of errors playing out in the West Wing has enough people afraid that they won’t travel?
It’s a reasonable fear, and I am as concerned as everyone else. But there’s one reason to hope, I think, something that we can all remember when it’s three o’clock in the morning and we’re staring at the ceiling in terror. And that’s that we’ve always been here: for each other, and for those who need us. In the 1970s when you couldn’t walk down the street holding hands with your same-sex partner, you could do it here. In the 1980s when the president and much of the country turned their backs on a plague more virulent than the black death, you could find love and acceptance and even a place to die here. As the millennial passed and hate groups traded epithets for all the many people they hated, no one hated you here. And when in the 2010s started back with rants about who could use which bathroom, you could come here and, for a little while, not care.
For a very long time, Provincetown has been an oasis of sanity when the seas around us turned dangerous. This may be the year that we’re called upon to do that again, to be that again. To show that there can be strength and courage and love when the rest of the world has forgotten those virtues.
So let’s be especially kind to our visitors this year, even when they don’t behave the way we want them to, even when we’re tired and they’re irritating. Because this year is different. This year they’re refugees from a scary place. And they’re coming for a lot more, this year, than just a souvenir t-shirt and a day at the beach.