Very few summer-twilight evenings go by without a thought of playing hide-and-seek games decades ago. We grabbed every moment of fun out of the evening’s dwindling daylight. We tried to trick each other by switching jackets and sweaters in the dusk in order to fool the one who was “it” in hide-and-seek into calling the wrong name of who was hiding where. Sometimes, it actually worked! This was our play with the light and dark. These evenings afforded primary lessons in getting the most out of each day and savoring the summer’s light and the beckoning outdoors.
Those small-town summer evenings in Western Pennsylvania – which friends and dear ones who grew up in cities have their own versions of – were delicious and seemed forever-lasting. In such hours – the long baseball games at the ballpark; the falling asleep after a swim, feeling the breeze while dreamily seeing the full-green leaves outside my bedroom window; the catching of worms during the evenings for bait we would use to fish the next day – the days felt never-ending. Nothing else existed outside of these moments. What we possessed was enough. This was summer abundance.
As an adult, at times such moments have felt stolen from something else, some “supposed to be doing” thing. Yet isn’t this precisely what the fullness of summertime is about? Here we are now, nine weeks past the summer solstice, just over four weeks until the autumnal equinox that we in the Northern Hemisphere see as a threshold to autumn. All around, in August, is the culmination of growth, the completion that started in the tiny buds, blossoms, and shoots of spring. The urgency of spring and early summer have settled into the lush, tall, and bursting late summer, whether in city parks, community gardens, or country fields.
In Real Time
The zenith of life and growth is in this moment. There’s no making it stand still and stopping it from moving on, nor rushing it either; no putting off witnessing the abundance for another month. What isn’t picked on the tomato vine will be lost, and so it is with time. The days call for us to be with the season’s richness now.
A bee on a roadside flower, daisy fleabane
Like those childhood evenings, these days still possess plenty of light and warmth. Sunrise is 53 minutes later and sunset 52 minutes earlier than each was on the summer solstice. At 13 hours and 26 minutes, today’s length of day (as the weather almanac calls it) is an hour and 45 minutes shorter than it was at the solstice, but the sun still sets fairly late, at 7:41 p.m. The girl from Western Pennsylvania felt that even though the start of school was just around the corner, the late August evenings still offered hours of light to play outdoors. So it is today.
We recognize certain rhythms of the season year after year, but is anything exactly the same? In the book Making Friends with Yourself: Christian Growth and Self-Acceptance, the late Jesuit priest and psychologist Leo Rock observed that our human concept of experiencing cycles “again” is an artificial by-product of the way we keep time: “In real time nothing is ever again. It only seems that way. Today is not a replay of last Thursday, nor is it a preview of next Thursday. The simple truth is that today never happened before nor will it ever happen again.” As he noted, “Would we not look more carefully if we remembered that we pass this way only once, that there is no such thing as `again’?”
An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly at the Orange County Arboretum, N.Y.
In his time in the woods, Henry David Thoreau rendered just how powerful our own constant reawakening and awareness can be. “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts,” he wrote. Recently, I came across and again read a journal that I kept as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in an American literature class. The professor, whose passion and excellence were inspiring, assigned each student to choose one work and to keep a journal as we read it. I chose Thoreau’s Walden. As I read my journal, with its selected passages from Walden, I relished the incisive wisdom, wryness, irony, and poetry of Thoreau’s writing and noticed how my responses felt as true and have remained as timeless through these four decades.
Thoreau wrote, “In eternity, there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never again be more divine in the lapse of all the ages.” Under this passage, in the journal, I wrote at the time: “God is touchable not in a distant `the end of the world is coming’ sense, but in the feeling that eternity is now within the power of our reach.”
What exactly spoke to me then, at 21, and does so now, at 63? It’s a realization that I lose so much by not being attuned to the present. Much calls to us to be with the season and these moments, and to share them – a full palate of purples, yellows, and scarlet reds on an August roadside; an evening sunset’s golden sparkle over the water; a tiger swallowtail butterfly alighting on lavender flowers; the refreshing dew at dawn before the heat comes on; a beloved cat sniffing and chewing the tall, delectable grass; a lovely walk in a park with a friend; a long V-formation of dozens of geese in flight.
For someone whose mind at times races with the contents of “to do” lists or the “did I do enough?” and “was this good enough?” questions, simply paying attention to the splendor of what is there is affirming and calming. In this moment, the Divine is providing enough and doesn’t want us to live in anxiety. Whether it’s something in nature or of human love and creation, it can bring wonder and solace. Indeed, it’s a consistent refuge amid the world’s strife, warfare, disease, loss, stress, economic insecurity, and the degrading of the environment.
A great blue heron in the shallow water of a pond’s edge
Be aware of the moment. Take a breath and be still as you breathe. Really look, taste, touch, or smell. Earlier this summer, as I walked near a pond one evening, I spotted a heron. I realized that if I walked very quietly, the bird might not stir and I would enjoy its presence and beauty for quite a while. As much as possible, I needed to be one with this creature in that particular moment. Is it not so of the natural and manmade gifts around us?
Whether or not we’re attentive, a Divine amphitheater stage is there before us.