LIVING ON AN island is really different. I have had a number of happy experiences of living for a while on quite small islands, and while I am not certain that as a way of life it would be my cup of tea, I have learned a lot in the process.
Strangely enough, two small islands have taught me, in very different ways, one profound lesson.
This summer I visited Saba, an island in the Netherlands Antilles measuring five kilometres by four. Part of my sabbatical time in 1994 was spent on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland, five kilometres by two.
The most obvious lesson of an island is finitude. On Iona, I once walked, as a combination of physical and spiritual exercise, from its northernmost point to its southernmost, and from its most easterly to its most westerly. It was the work of an afternoon.
On Saba, one realizes finitude in different ways. It is a volcanic cone rising dramatically out of the Caribbean, so walking to each corner would be a task beyond me, but in a very short time one can drive every road on the island. Horizontal space is at such a premium that Saba's airport is the shortest commercial airstrip in the world.
But on each island I learned about finitude in ways beyond the purely geographical.
The first morning on Iona I woke to find the bedside light off (I am an inveterate night reader and fall asleep with the light on, so it is usually still on in the morning). I assumed that the bulb had burned out. But when I went to turn on the stove I discovered that the issue was larger. …