Why has this summer gone by so fast? Is it the fact that we have had very few really hot days and it’s hardly felt like summer at all? My kids would argue that it’s because nothing special happened and thus the days all blend into each other (even though, oh right! They spent eight days in Costa Rica with my father and stepmother, riding horses on the beach, but you know, whatever), and yet that’s not really true either.
A few weeks ago, in the car, I switched on the radio, which is something I do very occasionally, and the song “Uptown Girl” was on, and I did not turn away from it, which right there was something. Instead, I found myself thinking about how sad it was that Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel were no longer married, even though he wrote this song about her, the kind of song that is difficult to get out of your head once you hear just a second of it, which doesn’t mean it’s a good song, but still. The line “now she’s looking for a downtown man” seemed somehow poignant. I was just slowing the whole song down in my head and every single line was killing me. (I know.)
Not long after that, I was in the car again and I looked up at the sky and I couldn’t believe how stunning it looked, the way the colors of the sky and the clouds just seemed to pop. I couldn’t get over what I what I was seeing, and I thought about how incredibly lucky I was just to see that gorgeous sky right in front me. And then I thought about how lately everything was just overwhelming me like this. Which is possibly why my next thought was, Am I dying? But then I realized no, just the opposite.
This summer I worked, sometimes late into the night, but also took afternoon walks while listening to S-Town and Criminal and all the rest. I made hundreds of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. This summer, in fact when my kids were in Costa Rica, Tony and I went to the remarkable Innisfree Garden, and all I could say was, I can’t get over how beautiful this is! How can this even exist? How can we be right here, in the middle of something so beautiful like this? This summer I also went to the funeral of a young man, the brother of my daughter’s best friend, and what I remember most, as dozens of people filed into the funeral home, is that one older man, clearly not a stranger to funerals, said to someone, This is a sad one. This summer I played bocce ball for the first time and completely flipped out while trying to park at the Ben and Jerry’s flavor graveyard in the pouring rain. I made fruit cobblers and crisps and cakes and sat in the passenger seat of my car while my daughter drove. I made a pinhole projector out of a cereal box and then took a couple hours out of an ordinary day with my kids, Tony, and some welding glass to look at a partial solar eclipse. I saw the movie A Ghost Story, which I am still thinking about weeks later.
This summer I paid attention, which was a new year’s resolution I made a bunch of years ago and somehow managed to fulfill every year since. I stopped by people’s gardens and took photographs of the late summer flowers I love: sunflowers, echinacea, day lilies. I noticed the nights getting longer and then, slowly but steadily, shorter again.
I think this is what happens at middle age (I should add, if you’re lucky). You have finally lived long enough to know what you should pay attention to, and so, even if the world around you seems to be burning up in flames, you can notice the summer flowers, you can keep looking for the things right there in front of you that make sense, that have always made sense. Do peaches taste just as crazily delicious as they always have? Yes. Do you still swoon from the viney smell of fresh tomatoes? Yes. Does that summer night feeling still make you shiver just a tiny bit, the way it always has? Yes. Does every single summer bring back memories of every other summer of your life? Always. Are you paying attention? Yes. Always. Yes.