Well, here we are at the end of a very different summer, all of us masked like train robbers trying to stop a runaway train. A summer unlike any other. A summer of isolation. A summer of sitting on our hands instead of holding someone else’s, and no hugs.
But people with boats are lucky. We can escape at will. So lucky, in fact, that we’re subject to quarantine envy — although not as much as David Geffen, who had to duck after announcing he too was heroically self-isolating–On his $600 million yacht.
Don’t worry though, summer will prevail. It always does.
More than a season, summer is memory. It’s not confined by the present.
It’s a compendium of flashbacks to the past, of growing up, of hot days with nothing to do, of first jobs, first games, first loves, first everything.
This summer is only one of many firsts. It will have to compete forever with much better times. For sailors, especially, our whole lives are a succession of summers. “I don’t know, does it ever get old? I don’t think it ever gets old.”
It’s August, so summer’s ending now. But summer’s always ending. Even from its first day it was what we looked forward to, and now as autumn approaches and winter bears down, what we will look forward to again. Summer of the imagination, past and present, is beyond the reach of any virus.
I think it must be that summer’s first moment was when school let out. That’s when every eight-year-old realized nothing stays the same. Doors open, the world of pencils and books and dirty looks wasn’t all there was, there was something to look forward to. And that stayed with us. Actually, summer is summer all year round. It’s always with us because it’s the future. The idea of summer gets us through February and muddy Spring.
We stop now in August and feel the air on our skin and think, yes, this is what it was, and is, and will be again.
Summer is nostalgia for the present, that weird sense of time stopped, of uncommanded recollection of momentary reconnection with ourselves.
Those moments can catch us unaware the idea that we’ve been here before–this approaching thunderstorm–those rivulets of sweat on a glass of iced tea–this sultry roar of cicadas or crickets or honking marsh frogs. It’s weird because it calls into question all our hurries and worries because it says, stop! This is what you waited for and now it’s here. When summer works we hold what we remember and forget what we’ve lost on the journey to wherever it is we are now. Summer is the long light of evenings that linger, anchorages where in the stillness each yacht points its own way, and the murmur of voices over the dark water.
Summer is time stopped and time restarted again.
What a strange summer this is! How shall we remember this summer?
I was 10 when polio swept the country. The parks closed and over the post-war optimism of 1953 a pall descended. No birthday parties– you want to wind up in an iron lung? I sat in the dirt all summer with nowhere to go, pounding a baseball into my mitt. And that fall, when school resumed, Clayton Kinch came back with a limp and another schoolmate didn’t come back at all. Then, finally, there was a vaccine and we went on growing up.
The survivors always go on, memory corrects itself because that’s what survival requires. Summer is always elegiac. It’s true nature is of the lost, and it is its nature to see the moment as the past and for a moment to linger there. It hides its elegy behind the laughter of children running through sprinklers and the barking of a favorite dog. It’s the fulfilment of a dream and its definition. It’s what we waited for and yet with it comes a sense of impending loss, a count of steadily shortening days, a sense of impending expiration.
But summer always comes again.
The children next year will not be so young, and neither will we. Maybe next summer we’ll still be wearing a mask. Maybe the lines for vaccination will be as long as they were when I was 11. Forbearance will be required.
However, the wind changes we will set our sails in response, speeding on or lying a hull some more. We’ll look back, I’m already looking back.
Our lives are not steady things. They lurch and halt and take unexpected turns and if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
The future is unknown and the present won’t sit still, but we always have summer–the memory of good times, warm nights, all of us together.
The smart money is always on looking ahead — as long as we don’t forget to remember
California summer. This one sure is different.Christian Williams