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Jewish World ReviewJune 2, 2000 / 28 Iyar, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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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 night.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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