So, how was your summer? Did you get away from your routines and responsibilities and do something you enjoy? Or were you happy to stay home and catch up on projects that felt good after they were finished, if not necessarily enjoyable in the process? Perhaps some of each.
Alas, the iconic Minnesota State Fair end-of-summer-get-together started this week, meteorological summer ends August 31, and kids are getting ready to go back to school and college. Well, some kids, at some schools, in some states. With all the pandemic uncertainty of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, who knows what rules schools will institute (and parents will concur with) over the next few weeks. The only certainty is that the calendar marches on.
The change in seasons nudges me to reflect on my summer, especially after anticipating a few months of a little more freedom and a lot less worry. Did it happen? Well, a little. As someone with an immune deficiency and autoimmune conditions, it will be hard to abandon my guard as long as Covid-19 remains prevalent and circulating. Still, I did get “up north” for a few days with family, and I wasn’t quite as neurotic about others’ exposures and excursions out. How about you?
I know people who traveled on airplanes (gasp) to reclaim vacations to Hawaii, Greece, Turkey, England, Germany, Hong Kong, and others who escaped to cabins and out-of-state destinations. Many of you ate in restaurants and even left your mask at home (or in the car). It was a great respite from anxiety and fear. Or maybe it was just that the benefits felt more important than the risk.
All the while, the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant sneakily traveled around the world with us. And here we are, with cases and hospitalizations and yes, even deaths, escalating rapidly in these last few weeks of northern hemisphere summer. At first, those vaccinated felt safe, with probable lower but still hopeful adequate immunity to the coronavirus. But now, as breakthrough cases rise (almost 10,000 in Minnesota alone) and even some vaccinated folks hospitalized and dying from Covid-19, anxiety and fear resurface for some of us. Is it enough to scare us back into the safety strategy of last fall?
Minnesota had a scorching and dry summer, like the ones I remember growing up in western Wisconsin with 16-hour days of sunlight, prickly parched lawns, and crowds of kids at the bathing-suit-fading chlorinated pool and ride-required-to-the-lake beaches. We were lucky to be able to walk or bike to the pool, tennis courts, softball field, and a city park with a zoo, cave, trails to explore, and river boulders to hop across and picnic on, the sun beaming down on our heads as the rocks cooled our bottoms. We savored the freedom to make plans for each day, depending on our mood and our friends.
Now, I find myself reflecting on summers past when my kids were still home and needed entertainment, supervision, rides to places, and food. As a university faculty member on a nine-month contract, I had more flexibility in the summer. However, it was precious time to work on my research and writing, requirements for tenure. After tenured, I left my faculty position to consult and write and spent a chunk of each summer with my boys in Hawaii. We body-surfed the crashing waves, snorkeled with the humuhumunukunukuapua’a and spinner dolphins, hiked and toured the island with visitors, and played golf, tennis, basketball, ping-pong, and video and board games. There was always something to do. Something fun. Together. I miss those carefree years of memory-making tradition. Are there summer rituals that you miss?
Looking Back, Looking Forward, Staying Present
I’m thankful for the summer we had this year, especially compared to last summer when vaccines weren’t yet out and everyone—it seemed—feared for their life and health. Last year, we canceled trips and vacations, stayed home more than we ever imagined we could, and masked, distanced, and skeptically avoided outside human contact. I walked a lot and cooked a lot. It gave me something to look forward to in my day. Some people, like my mother, were isolated in their homes, connecting with family only by phone and Zoom calls. It was a very long year.
This year, I’m grateful for ol’ fashioned summer weather (does anyone even remember the sun last summer?), the long days, the chance to be outside, precious time with family willing to travel, and the freedom to choose. And I’m incredibly thankful I don’t live in fear of a raging forest fire, hurricane, or earthquake. Or close to war.
I don’t try to predict what next summer will bring. Last year I lived in three-week increments, from one immune treatment to the next. After each infusion, I would ask myself what the most important things were to experience, accomplish, savor, or just live for over the coming three weeks. And then I set the intention to do just that. It reminded me to do what was most important to me and not to take any of life’s adventures for granted. Even if excursions rarely went beyond the house or backyard.
This year, my horizon expanded to an entire season. I signed up for one- and two-month-long workshops and classes and set seasonal goals—none that required travel. Circumstances, like my health and the coronavirus, still feel uncontrollable and unpredictable. I have new fall goals, but they are fluid and flexible.
The days are getting shorter—it’s now dark by eight pm. With astrological fall still three weeks away, I want to breathe in and soak up every bit of remaining summer sunshine and family moments together. What else do you want to experience, share, make memories of?
Go ahead, be a kid again. So much of life involves weighing consequences with desires, choosing what’s most important, and accepting our choices. Maybe it isn’t the pandemic that’s redefined my seasons as much as it is life.
Hang on for the ride, bend with the wind, stay focused, and redirect as needed.