How Many Summers?
Although today is June 20th, it feels like the start of summer. My husband and I arrived last evening at Mt Desert Island, Maine--perhaps our favorite place in all the world. We have come every summer for all the years we have been together, and we love it more and more. As we were driving to this year's house (we have had a series of rentals; this one feels like a keeper, it is just beautiful), I had the odd sensation of meeting myself around bends in the road. Do you know that feeling? You are in the moment, but you also are seeing and remembering and hearing and smelling other distant moments in the same space.
Awakening to a misty morning, looking out the bedroom windows at the glorious view of water and distant islands and green everywhere, I began to think about summers and the passage of sweet time.
A few days ago I had lunch with a dear friend who has lived through three separate breast cancer experiences. She has been well now for many years, but, of course, still carries some worry about her future health. We were talking about the usual daily events of our lives and the rather small difference that the season makes. That is, neither of us has had a summer off for decades, and we basically get up and come to work everyday irregardless of the time of year. We agreed that we do make some small adjustments for summer and are certainly grateful for the reduced traffic and quicker commutes. I try hard to patrol my garden every morning to note what has changed in the past day, and we eat dinner nightly on the front porch. But the daily routine of early awakening, gym, work, dinner, probably more work, a little reading, and then sleep does not change.
My friend told me that she had a similar conversation with her sister who interrupted her to say: "Just how many summers do you think you have left?" This had been a stunning question that resulted in my friend's decision to make quite a few changes to her summer plans. Her sister has blessedly never has had cancer or other major health problems, but she is in her 50s and has the healthy awareness that life is not infinite. At some point, even without particular health concerns, we are not as hale and hardy as we have been, and some trips or activities or possibilities may no longer be reasonable.
With this conversation buzzing in my head, I was amazed to talk later in the day with a patient who is a real estate agent. She told me that she had recently made a big sale of a house on Cape Cod by asking the nervous potential buyers: "How many summers do you think you have left?" The man, she said, almost immediately took out his checkbook, and they thanked her for helping them remember their priorities.
Unfortunately, most of us cannot afford to buy a vacation home on the ocean, but we all can be and should be remembering those priorities. In the very best of circumstances, we don't have endless summers, and all of us who have been diagnosed with cancer should easily remember that. I certainly am not suggesting that we should wrap ourselves in worried and gloomy predictions, but that we should absolutely rejoice in the present and pay attention to all the cliches about "gathering our rosebuds while we may." I am almost embarrassed to write this as I really do resist all the directions aimed at cancer patients regarding positive attitudes, living in the moment, and appreciating what we have.
Framing these same thoughts in terms of summers is a more comfortable fit for me. I don't have all the answers yet (remember, this conversation took place only a few days ago), but I am thinking about it. I started the next day a little differently by having coffee on the patio when I came home from the gym. That evening, I my husband and I took a walk after our porch dinner and noticed the fireflies and the stars.
Today is easy. We will go to the Farmers' Market and provision ourselves with wonderful local goodies for the week. Then, we will hike in these mountains and give thanks for another summer.
How many summers do you think you have left? And how are you using this one?