Jewish World ReviewJune 2, 2000 / 28 Iyar, 5760
Of summer days,
summer nights and
pebbles in a jar
'Keep an eye on summer. . . ."
That bit of lyric, from the middle of an old song I
have otherwise long forgotten, reinsinuates itself
into the atmosphere this time every year. It might as
well be playing on every corner, although it's really
not there; it might as well be emblazoned against
the clouds like skywriting coming in soft white
plumes from a sputtering biplane, although there are
no words in the afternoon air.
Memorial Day has come and gone. June, July and
August are on their way. Keep an eye on summer.
Yet we seldom do.
Summer is life's greatest gift to us, or at least it
ought to be. Perhaps that is why this column is one
many readers request to be reprinted. It is no
coincidence that there have been more songs
written about summer than about all the other
seasons combined: "Summertime," "Wonderful
Summer," "All Summer Long," "A Summer Song,"
"Summer Means Fun" . . . whatever your
generation, the songwriters and singers of your era
were drawn to summer seemingly as if they couldn't
help themselves. Summer is everything. At least it
once was, when we were young.
Then -- when summer, and life, were new --
summer represented freedom and friendship and an
escape from the grayness of the rest of the year.
Summer was not just a season; summer was a
reward, even when we hadn't done a thing to earn
it. Summer was the time to breathe, to feel like
someone else, to discover things about you that
could never be discovered in November or
February. Summer was the time when you were
allowed to figure out who you were.
As we grow older, we allow summer to lose that.
Summer doesn't change -- we do. The long days
and warm nights that we used to cherish and linger
over somehow become rushed and diminished,
because we don't pay proper attention; we have
jobs now, and responsibilities, and deadlines to
meet. There are times during the summer when -- if
someone were to ask us what month it is -- we
would have to hesitate for a second before figuring
out whether it is June or July or August. Summer is
a blur, or so we have permitted it to become; the
one time of the year that should never be blurred --
the one time of the year that should be clear and
crisp and distinct, every summer day -- is often
anything but. It's not summer's fault. It's ours.
One of the wisest people I have known once said
that the best things in life should be thought of as
pebbles in a jar. The assumption should be that the
pebbles are finite -- even if you can't count them by
looking into the jar, you should assume that one
day they will run out. You should withdraw them
with care, one by one, never doing it by rote or
distractedly. If you withdraw them too rapidly, you
are being greedy, and will hasten the day when they
are gone; if you hoard them, if you are miserly in
keeping them in the jar, then you will rob yourself
of the experiences the good things should give you.
There's no perfect way to do it. The closest you
can come to perfection is to know just how
precious those pebbles are, and to value each one.
So it is with summers. Here is one true thing: You
have one less summer remaining in your life than
you did a year ago today. A year from today you will have
one less summer remaining than you do right now.
That can worry you or thrill you. Choose to let it
thrill. Summer is just beginning.
Why are we given summers? Probably for the
reason that we are given all of life's good things: to
remind us of what the rest of life does not feel like,
to show us by contrast what we are missing during
all those hours when things are not so fine. If all of
life were summer -- if all of our experiences were
wonderful experiences -- then the world would
have no texture, no context. Summer -- the
possibility of summer, summer as we first knew it
-- is what it is precisely because we are aware its
duration is not limitless. It would not taste the way
it does if we thought it would last forever. We love
it -- or at least we once loved it -- because we
know, even as it is beginning, that it will soon
enough be gone.
That is why the last evening of summer is one of the
most melancholy times of the year. The air is getting
cooler on that September night; the shadows are
growing longer. There is a sadness on that night
that is hard to shake. Not now, though; that's for
later. The pebbles fill summer's jar. Yours to withdraw at
your own pace. Keep an eye on summer. Savor
every day, every summer
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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