Living in the summer moment

Unlike many others this year, we’ve been living through a summer that’s bright, dry, and clear.

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And yet, there have been cirrus clouds of melancholy hanging over much of this season for me. I have been missing the summers of my childhood–when each day felt like a gleaming bead strung on an infinite ribbon of time.

They were filled with slow moments and family I no longer see. I miss both.

 Living in the summer moment

One year my grandma suddenly decided to take a bunch of us kids to a beach cabin for a week.

Much as we are trying to slow down and savor the gift of time each summer brings to us, we have been less successful in that than I hoped to be. In May I vowed that I would have some slow afternoons in the hammock, dozing off with a book, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

However, the other day Cane built a little reading loft in our backyard tree. We needed to replace some boards in our deck, and he decided to repurpose them into a nook for our girls.

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I climbed up the ladder he built to watch him pound the final nails.

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As I studied the leaves’ dappled shadows on the platform, I realized, wistfully, that we are half-way through July. Halfway through summer.

The days feel as if they are melting fast as the orange creamsicles we’ve been devouring this year, and I started feeling as sad for this summer’s passing as if it were already September.

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“Remember when we were kids and summer seemed to last forever?” I asked him.

“Why is it so different now?”

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Playing dress-up in my mom’s prom dresses.

I wondered aloud if it is because it is so much harder now to fully inhabit the moments we are in, our heads so full of memories and dreams and responsibilities that we find it hard to create a clear space and fill it only with what is directly in front of us.

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When I was a kid, I didn’t spend time mourning the past or worrying about the future.

I lived fully in each day as I was in it, not really knowing that one day the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins who defined my world would pass from it.

I mean, I knew that I would grow up and things would change, but that was all so abstract and far away.

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“I want some time to sit in this tree,” I said to Cane that day. “I want to come up here with my book, and eat an apple, and look up at the leaves and not think about anything but the apple and the leaves and what’s going to happen on the next page.”

Just like when I was a kid.

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“I want to pay full attention and not think about the days already spent or how few of them we have left. I don’t want to let tomorrow’s sorrow rob me of today’s joy.

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And so, a few days later, I climbed the ladder with my book, an apple, and my camera. I took some time to see, some time to just be.

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We’d spent the morning and the evening before it with my cousin and his family. Seven years ago, when our grandma died, my cousin and I made a pact of sorts. We promised to spend more time together than we had been. We wanted our children to know each other the way we had.

They don’t, of course. They don’t share a grandmother, and they haven’t shared as many summer days as their dad and I did. But they do know each other, and they look forward to our visits, and within minutes of meeting at an old-school video game arcade, they were huddled around the same machine, laughing and boasting and trading insults.

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To see our lanky, almost-grown babies like this made something inside me swell, made of equal parts joy, gratitude, and sorrow. We’ve fulfilled the hope of our pact. We’ve given them at least a little of what we had. But for them, the time of childhood summers is nearly past.

I might easily have slipped into a pool of sadness, but for the 18 hours we got to share, I didn’t. I didn’t think about the past or the future. We made food, we laughed, we got the kids to do some chores, we went out for ice cream, we talked and talked and talked. I didn’t take any photos (other than that grainy phone shot above). I was too busy living our moments to document them.

I was just present, and grateful.

When they left, I felt tired and out of sorts. I took a nap. I did some errands. And then–missing my cousin, missing my younger kids, missing all kinds of things–I went to the reading platform and tried to recapture my childhood days ways of being.

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Of course, I couldn’t really. There are lots of reasons I will never feel quite as safe and carefree as I did on those summer days when I could burn hours lost in the pages of a book.

A reading platform in a tree will never be quite the haven that our grandmother’s lap was.

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But I’m glad that I can still get a taste of it.

I’m beginning to understand that I will always miss the family I can never see again, that time is not going to dull that kind of pain, which is all the more reason I’m thankful to be building a new one with a man who looks at a pile of cracked decking boards and sees a place of respite for our girls. And for me.

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Maybe, 40 or so years from now, our kids will look back on these summers and the hours they spent reading in the arms of a tree as fondly as I do my own young summers. Maybe they’ll even build a reading platform in their own backyards, for whatever children fill their lives then.

And if I’m lucky enough to still be here 40 or so years from now, I’m sure I will look back on the imperfect days of this summer with as much longing as I currently do the ones from 1973.

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(A related note: I’m still planning to finish Susanka’s Not So Big Life by the end of this month. If you’re reading it, too, please let me know if you’re up to answering a few questions via email. I’d love to incorporate reader responses into the post about it.)

Linking to the William Morris Project at Pancakes and French Fries.