Echoes of New England

Inside the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, echoes. Echoes of footsteps from people climbing up, 252 feet of stair and slope and stone. Echoes of voices from people speaking with each other, planing their weekend or recounting their adventures. Echoes of laughter from children running, trying to reach the top before their parents. And echoes from the past, seven years spent in Boston and New England, ending next week as I move to the Midwest.

As I ascend the Monument I pass carved stones, each bearing the name of the New England community which donated it. Many spark a rush of memories. “Harvard College”, reads one near the base of the tower, reminding me of the seven years I’ve spent studying at Harvard University, the countless hours of reading, the mountains of pages I have written, the publications and conference presentations, and everything I’ve learnt. “Cambridge” reads another, a few steps up, recalling the dorm I lived in my first year in the States, and the Border Cafe, Grendel’s Den, and Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage. Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas Days at Henrietta’s Table in the Charles Hotel, and hours treading the streets from one Harvard school to another to teach and take classes.

“Salem” and the Witch Museum and strange New Age shoppes (always with the “pes” on the end). “Lowell”, hometown of my first real boyfriend, spending time with his family and talking of his dream to build a dance studio there one day. “Lexington”, where the Revolutionary War began, one shot fired from a small bridge I have walked over, while speaking with guides dressed in the garb of American revolutionaries. “Northampton”,  quaint queer village in the west of Massachusetts, swimming with a friend in the brooks and rivers while watching hot guys play Frisbee. And, of course, “Boston”.

Boston, and the Whale Watches setting out from the bay, a humpback whale and her calf swimming together, the calf seeming to wave at our boat with one small flipper as it passes. Boston, and the charms of Newbury street at sunset and the bright light of the Citgo sign at night. Boston, and its strange obsession with the Red Sox, and the Patriots, and the Celtics, and the Bruins (even I went to the parade when they – when we - won the Stanley Cup), and the long T rides home with drunken, sweaty, happy people celebrating their beloved team’s victory.

Boston, and the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus – a family of choice I found after coming out of the closet after ten years of struggle with myself. I have sung with a lot of choirs (I’m an English choirboy, after all), but nothing will compare to the BGMC: the beautiful winter’s evenings in Provincetown during Holly Folly; the bleary-eyed early-morning warm-ups in Ogunquit; the candles raised at Christmastime in Arlington Street Church; champagne and tuxedos at the opening of a new wing for the Museum of Fine Arts; thousands of voices raised in song in Denver at the GALA Festival; and, most important, the friendship, camaraderie, and love of the Chorus itself.

Boston, and the Humanist Community at Harvard, a group which helped define my years in the city and helped me find myself – for it was on a spring break service trip with a Humanist group that I finally came out of the closet and accepted myself as a gay man, enabling me to join the Chorus I have so loved.

As I near the top of the monument, though, the echoes die out, replaced with the ever louder whip and whirl of the wind. The sunlight briefly dazzles as I step out of the stairwell and, squinting, step to the edge. Then Provincetown comes into focus, and I can see all the places which mark this town as special for me: the bars and clubs, the theaters and restaurants, and the golden beaches curling round the bay. I know if I could follow the crooked finger of the Cape far enough, if I could walk those beaches through Wellfleet, Yarmouth, and Barnstable, through Plymouth (where Mike, my first boyfriend, still lives), and Quincy and Dorchester, then I would get back to Boston. I would get back home.

For that is what New England has become. For this proud Londoner, who set off seven years ago to study for a year at Harvard and never went back, New England has become home. I love it here. I love the people, who can be brusque and skeptical, but who are truly warm and welcoming if you give them time. I love the big cities and the little towns – particularly the seaside towns which smell of salt. I even love the weather, the harsh winters, rainy springs, gorgeous falls alive with color, and glorious summers on endless beaches. But most of all I love the experiences I have had here, and the friends that I have made, and the places I have been, and the many, many things I have learnt.

Thank you, New England, for all that you have given me. I will not forget you, even if I don’t return: within the heart of this Englishman will always beat the rhythm of the sea on your East Coast shores, and on my lips will always linger just a tinge of your Boston accent. You have made your mark on me, and I will miss you. Farewell.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.


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