T.S. Eliot was wrong: August is the cruelest month. It scorches lettuce and rains on camping tents. Tomatoes struggle to ripen. I struggle with the new bathing suit that doesn’t quite fit.
My biggest gripe is that August ends too soon – just as we’ve fallen in love with summer again. Back-to-school ads warn: Fall is coming.
I’m seized with panic. The garage still needs paint. Tiny weeds from March are hip high. I didn’t hike enough or have enough pals over for barbecues.
Joy was something I always wanted to hoard and hold onto. In seventh grade, I was devastated after finishing the Narnia series. How could there be no more stories about a world that felt so true?
C.S. Lewis, author of those exquisite books, called that feeling of loss the “secret signature of the soul.” Lovely things are bittersweet, because they’re glimpses of eternal beauty. We want an unfading August, an eternal summer. Delight – upon seeing the ocean, hearing a symphony, experiencing life’s milestones – lets us down, because we hunger for nothing less than God.
One of the first times I ever felt that joy mixed with regret, I was 7 years old. We were leaving Fort Lewis and a house on American Lake, driving to a new post – in New Jersey. It was like being cast out of Eden. A side trip to Disneyland did help lessen the grief of leaving our beloved school and neighborhood.
Oh, the glorious rides, parades, music and food of the Magic Kingdom! Then, I had a breakdown. An elementary school existential crisis, right at the exit gate.
I bawled, holding my cheap souvenir, refusing to leave. After years of anticipation and daydreaming about this day, I was despondent. My best memories ever were to be enshrined in a flimsy vinyl pencil case. I was overwhelmed with emotion. No coaxing could stem tears or get me to move.
My stoic, frugal Asian mom sensed something wrong in a deeper place than a child’s tantrum.
In one of her kindest, most generous gestures ever, she didn’t scold or drag me to the car. Rather, I was led to the last-chance souvenir stand. Out came a wad of cash – travel expenses for the cross-country trip. I was consoled with a sweet, velvety Winnie the Pooh bear as a memento.
I now see how much it must have hurt my parents to be unable to give us more. I didn’t deserve this extravagance. I was ungrateful. We hardly could afford entry tickets.
It was pure grace – unearned compassion.
Summer bestows this unmerited favor here in the Northwest. It leads us back to childhood – to beaches, bikes, fishing docks, bare feet in grass, baseballs and lemonade. It satisfies a need for warmth and connection. Sunlight breaks into our islands, gets us to remove insulating, isolating outerwear. In summer, we can all be young and innocent.
No wonder, at the end of every August, I’m 7 again, bawling at the gates of paradise. Campfires with friends, flats of raspberries, waterfront walks – they’re never enough. In fact, spending time with the wonderful lot of you makes it worse. Why can’t this golden season go on forever?
Disneyland is overpriced. We can’t travel to Narnia. We’re decades beyond elementary school. Childhood mementos have long been put away.
At least we can admire sailboats in the bay, splash in lakes the color of turquoise and gaze up at thousand-year-old trees in the Olympics. Washington state has enough wonders to populate a magic kingdom. Or an imaginary world.
August, I forgive your cruelty. I embrace this short season of sun. No matter how many times I’m welcomed back to Eden, I won’t despair the ensuing fall.
And if I can’t have talking lions and glass slippers, I’ll settle for wild blackberries. Maybe there are no happy endings – for most of us – in this world. But still, every year, we get a little consolation, from the glorious season called summer.Maria Gudaitis, a writer and designer, is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. She volunteers at the new Write@253 center in Tacoma. Reach her through her blog at mariagudaitis.com, where she shares thoughts on food, poetry and local events.