Subtle Summer

I was having lunch with a friend the other day when I noted that I hadn’t done much this summer. She was quick to correct me. Of course I had — I had gotten to have lunch with her a lot, hadn’t I? And seen my friends a lot? Didn’t that count?

Good God. Of course it did! But I’m so into measurables, so into constantly educating myself (in school and out of it), so into always having to be doing something that is taking me somewhere. I had hardly thought to count fun and connection as having “done something.”

This summer I haven’t “done” much but work a little, relax in the evenings, and see my friends a lot. And unsurprisingly, it’s been my happiest summer in years.

I am learning what to do when left to my own devices. Apparently, when I actually dare to just do what I want to do, I will work and play in the information-fields of the internet as long as there is daylight, then clean my house and spend the dark-time before bed knitting and watching movies. If a friend invites me to dinner I will go; if she gives me a gardenia from her garden I will savor its fragrance for days, always thinking happily of her when I catch its lovely smell. Smelling a gardenia and thinking of the friend who snapped its stem and gave it to you — now that is a moment that a good life is made from.

I have no major accomplishments this summer. Or perhaps that’s completely wrong. I have done some good things. I have slowly learned to stop worrying about sailing my life forward, and turned inside to the needs of my heart and my sense of fun. I have had lunch with Lala a good 4 or 5 times, with more to come. I can actually go to parties that happen on weeknights, like my friend Laura’s 35th birthday potluck dinner bash tomorrow. I have knitted up a fine sock for a friend and started another pair, which I may give to a friend and may give to a man who attends my church who is in hospice care with cancer.

This man’s situation gave me pause. Like a lot of people who have remained partnerless in the long term, I deal with a level of aloneness and even loneliness that hardly anyone around me understands. (Thank God.) The dying man from my church is 86, and sent word to my pastor that he wished to have people call him at his home. He wanted to feel connected and to talk to someone.

Goodness knows I want the same thing sometimes (as so few people seem to understand well, it is quite strangely possible to have many friends, but still be quite overwhelmingly lonely in the endless quiet of your home). But I am not 86 with my life over, asking strangers to call me. No matter how unbearable your situation, someone always has it worse. I am reminded of a children’s book that my friend CCR once showed me when we worked together in a bookstore, Fortunately, Unfortunately.

Unfortunately it often happens, especially in summer, that I very much wish that I had someone to talk to about what I am seeing or thinking, and there is no one there but the cats.

Fortunately, I am not 86 and in hospice care, calling on strangers to reconnect me to the world.

You can talk yourself right out of most agonies with this fine trick:

Unfortunately I have let my health go for months, and feel more and more hopeless about being fit and athletic again as I grow older.

Fortunately I have taken back my health from worse straits, and know it can be done.

Unfortunately I have a dear friend of over two decades who suffers from depression and I have to sit and watch him turn into a dead-eyed stranger, feeling as helpless and stricken as if I watched him drown while my hands were tied.

Fortunately summer is still full of birdsong and peace, and I have other friends who care more both for me and for themselves. And where there is life there is hope, even for my friend, so changed.

Try CCR’s game sometime. There’s always a way to reframe your troubles. Even, it seems, the most nightmarish ones.

This week I am pep-talking myself to skip yardwork this Saturday and spend the whole damn day floating down a river in an innertube with a group of friends who are famous for their ability to have massive fun. If I can somehow bring a few copies of The Economist with me to read, this will be the best of both my worlds. :0) I want to be the person who floats down the French Broad with a big Ziploc bag of The Economist floating along behind my tube. It’s beer for the mind.

Perhaps I am starting at last to figure out the secret to a happy summer. Stop demanding so much of yourself and of life. Life is long and there will be time to write screenplays. For now fine movies beckon you to watch them, new music waits for you to find it, long and lovely playlists ache to be rearranged out of disorder into love and appreciation, and the cats would like you to scratch their chins as you lie with them in the summer grass.

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