Reviving August

One can actually get self-forgivingly bored—then allow oneself to be pushed by some creative impulse into something new and deeply satisfying.

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Did you read the column in The Wall Street Journal this week? Ruined, the columnist said, August has been ruined–traditional summer activities curtailed by school openings in mid-August rather than in September as in days of old. August isn’t the month it used to be, he wrote.

It is for me. Finally.

So wait.  Wait until the children have been launched; wait until you can leave the paid job for the unpaid, longed-for one. Wait, and the Augusts of memory return full and complete, and for one month of the year, time is as uninterrupted and sweet as it was.  Golden.

In New England, where summers are shorter, the problem of compacting is severe. Gorgeous as it is, there’s not much summer here, but we have the same number of items to pack in as everybody else. Makes for exhaustion. You might read a bit of whining here: I’m a Southern transplant, and as you may have heard, we don’t forget.

Here’s how it is.  May: schedules, plane tickets, summer’s long To Do lists—ordered and checked off when completed.  June begins to rev it all up: the garden, the yard—hours of hard outside warfare with the weeds. (Good for you, but try it.) Then there’s packing and unpacking for June weddings—you know that dresses and four pairs of shoes do not fit into a carry-on, right? And since “everybody’s available” in June, why not slot the family reunion in there somewhere?

July doesn’t let up: the de rigueur celebration of July 4th—the parade, the fire engines, the musket shots, the paper cups, the hauling of chairs in the back of the Highlander. And did I remember to buy mustard? And even if we’re already running on fumes and I’m organizing my To Do lists on Excel spreadsheets, there’s the two weeks on the Outer Banks.  Required, let me tell you. Compulsory. And just when you thought you could take a breath, there’s the church (or synagogue, or New Age gathering, or whatever) retreat—a week at a campy place of blow-up mattresses, topics to ponder, carbs, and precious few toilets. For “renewal”. You crawl into late July.

It’s helpful here to remember the Augusts with children in the house: the To Do list of back-to-school notebooks and No. 2 pencils, school clothes, hemline debates, and activity schedules—all popping up on the iPhone, MacBook, or paper calendar (what have you), and you hit the ground running at 7:30 a.m. Mid-August, and summer was over, and all these preparations in the high heat of the day? The sweaters? the socks? Well, whew! As we used to say in the South, “I was fixin’ to get the vapors.”

Not any more. Now, August is a delicious and welcomed gift from the storied past. It’s a reminder that the gracefulness of remembered summers can be recaptured: those long, hot days on the Outer Banks, endless in the minds of us children, hours that can translate nowadays into excused and welcomed laziness. I can even postpone work on that story that, in May, was on the summer To Do list. “Must Complete!” was the frantic note next to that item.  Without regret or guilt, I push that into September.

One can actually get self-forgivingly bored—then I allow myself to be pushed by some creative impulse into something new and deeply satisfying. Some new dream, or an old one recovered, considered gently, sitting on a lawn chair, just breathing, letting my weight down, going within.

Even the birds get it: building, nesting, having frantic sex, cutting out and protecting territories, seeing to new babies, and all that thrash are done. Time to sing for the fun of it, time to view the world from the roofline, time to sit on a limb with less obligatory early-morning chatter. Quiet outside, still still … and full of warm possibility.

Just so. Life slows to a snail’s pace, the sun shines, the hawk soars, returning children cook and do their own laundry. Time expands in the silence, and I find and reclaim a personal space between some of this and a bit of that. It’s empty, and I don’t fill it.

 Ah, August. There’s nothing else quite like it.

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