Summer

It’s Summer. And though it’s been way hot and muggy at times and though it feels like Fall right now, we’ve had some gorgeous days. Sunday evening was perfect. This is not hyperbole—seventy-three degrees, friends with us for dinner on the porch, our little solar lights strung overhead coming on as darkness fell. Organic chicken and sausages from the butcher down the street. Vegetable terrine. Big succulent tomatoes. Cucumber salad. Ripe figs with mascarpone. It was perfect.

Summer days are long and nights are short. I like that. I like the Summer heat even though I can’t stay long in the sun and do dislike swimming and watermelon’s not my favorite fruit and it’s sometimes it’s so humid the sheets stick. It rained this am and was just 65 all day. Moisture has saturated the colors and plantings in the back garden. Gray gravel is dark blue. Creeping charlie is creeping faster. Toward the end of many rainy Fall Chicago days, the clouds recede to just above the midwestern horizon and just at 5:15 a sliver of low slow western sun slides under and like a seasonal sundial streams directly down the west-bound streets. This proof that Fall is here blinds drivers heading home and suburbanites racing to commuter trains.

So Fall is OK. In any case, it’s predictable, inevitable, so I’m trying to learn to love it. But it isn’t Fall yet, damn it. Everyone’s talking like Summer’s done. I want more hot, sticky days. Fall does not begin ’til 9/21—the equinox (equal night). The day the the earth flips over—the day that day and night last just the same—the earth’s epiphanic moment. Then earth moves on. Night lasts longer. Light comes later. We forestall the change with daylight savings and daylight lamps and, when we can, waking late, after the sun has had some impact on the day.

My equinox, my epiphany, happened as relentlessly, if not as obviously.

In Varieties of Religious Experience William James, the pioneering American psychologist (and brother of Henry) makes an example of 17th century religious rebel George Fox: Fox was a psychopath.

Fox’s journals read like a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

“As I was walking with several friends, I lifted up my head and saw three steeple-house spires, and they struck at my life. …the word of the Lord came to me …, saying: Cry, ‘Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!’ So … I went into the market-place,…crying ‘Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!’ …  As I went thus … there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. [and later] When I … felt myself clear, I went out of the town in peace…”

And following that wacko violent vision he founds the most calm, reasonable, rational, tolerant, and humane religion—The Religious Society of Friends (aka the Quakers). Its name kind of says it all. Friends commune in silence—no interpreter needed for me to talk with my gods, no extraneous noise, no fidgeting with candles or vestments. Debate is Friends seeking truth, not adversaries seeking dominance. It’s known as one of the “peace churches”, opposing the very purpose of war. Quakers officially endorse a rational response to the facts of climate change. It’s Christianity’s Buddhism. And it arose from an irrational psychopathic interlude. For me, the idea is though we may all of us be smited, trampled, imprisoned, or possessed by spirits, the outcome of that abuse is not predetermined. Past does not portend the future, even for a day.

In a ridiculous version of Fox’s revelation, my tumor is my epiphanic moment and its seizures my psychopathic interludes. In other words, and oddly, my tumor may be the best single thing that’s ever happened to me. (No, I’m not founding a religion, though if I was, it would be called the Universal Society of Apathists—a sect of agnosticism. It would, for all of us who couldn’t care a flying frack* about religion per se, provide relief from society’s constant religious bombardment. We would gather friends together and talk about anything but.)

People hear about my cancer and jump predictably to inevitable conclusions. I will die. True. But I rush to reassure. It’s not that bad. The tumor isn’t going to kill me. It’s wait and see, not touch and go. The likely thing to kill me is getting hit by a bus or falling in the shower or heart attack or something I’ve never heard of like septicemia (the tenth most common cause of death). But even though rumors of my imminent death are greatly exaggerated, the tumor has “struck at my life”.

In July, we went East to visit favorite friends living on forty acres (no mule) in Western Mass. We got up early. We got up late. They fed us. Sometimes we fed them. We talked. We sat and read. Even when it rained, the weather was perfect. We left the farm hardly at all except to take long walks. Twenty years ago, when I met Annie, these were her people. But they’re mine now too.

One evening, after enjoying a gorgeous day, visiting the creamery store in town, walking and talking and eating and reading and watching the sun set behind the trees, we retired to the TV room to watch a touching Danish movie, Italian for Beginners, about eight people finding themselves and each other.

By the end of the movie, I was a sobbing mess. The spectacle cleared the room, I think mostly out of concern that I might be embarrassed. But I really don’t mind crying in public. I’ll cry at the drop of a hat—I’ve always been a sap. But this was something different. My state of puddle-ness wasn’t caused by simple sentimentality or sadness, or the realization of the frailty or stupidity of humankind, although it’s true that sadness and frailty and stupidity exist in great abundance.

After a week with good people in a beautiful place, I was just overwhelmed by the vision of love and beauty and goodness all around me. It was a moment of clarity that has occurred more than once, if less intensely, since the tumor was discovered. Even at the most mundane moment–hearing badly practiced piano through an open window, simultaneous eye-rolling when the subway train stops just before the station, a shadow shape that tweaks my imagination. I notice place and life. It’s even clearer when Annie and I see it at the same time and share it with a glance. My epiphanic moment has revealed that the world is there before me—just sitting there—waiting for its future.

So I’m learning to love the Fall. Maybe it’s just because I can finally see it.

———————-

*did you know that Battlestar Galactica is based on the Book of Mormon (or so they say)?
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This entry was posted in I have no earthly idea, No. 05 – Quit Wasting Time, No. 08 – Watch for Signs and Portents, No. 10 – Have Fun. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Summer

  1. Claire Woolley says:

    Kevin, thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a beautiful way.

  2. Kelsey Liebenson-Morse says:

    Uncle Kev–
    Pestering Michael for a trip out to you & Annie–a lovely reminder of important Things.
    xo

    Your East Niece

  3. Kevin, this is a wonderful post, full of such lovely images, such beautiful recounting of simple and less simple moments and meals and realizations. I have heard before of people saying that their cancer (or another life-changing, life-threatening illness/disease) is the best thing that ever happened to them, serving as a reminder to recognize the fragility of all of our lives. I try to remember this, even without the, er, benefit (?) of having a life-threatening disease, because, as you say, we are all open to our end at any moment—hit by a bus, a fall in shower, septicema…which, by the way, I had to look up, because it reminded me of sectumsempra (from Harry Potter), and it is not too far off from the imaginary spell. And I try to remember to be grateful for each day I have in this beautiful world, for the friends I make along the way, for my truly amazing family, and for every moment I have with my dear, sweet, darling children. Having children did for me, I think, what the cancer has done for you, put me more in touch with what is important to me in each day, in each moment. And as they grow up a little more each day, it reminds me of how fast time goes by, and how important it is to saunter slowly through life and enjoy each delicious moment with each other, as fully as we can.

    It’s officially fall tomorrow. I love fall. Just as I love summer. I love all of the seasons, and I try to think about what fun each of them brings us. For instance, we are all excited to make hot chocolate and popcorn and line up some movies to cuddle up and watch together. We are planning to pick apples. And late season raspberries. We’ll make jam. We will gather leaves and make some rubbings. Max’s birthday is in October, and it’s always fun to plan that. We have to think of something funny for Lilli (our standard poodle) to be for Halloween. We’ll eat so much Halloween candy, we’ll get sick of it. We want to go camping. We want to build a fire and roast marshmallows. Make s’mores. If all else fails, we can do this in the back yard, with a tent and the grill. When winter comes, we will all don our snowbibs and run for the sledding hills. We will build snowmen and take long walks in the hushed streets. We’ll watch more movies and play videogames and read Septimus Heap or whatever series we are into by that time. We’ll go to the empty playgrounds because we do not let cold weather stop us from swinging and crossing the monkey bars. And we will be so excited when the first crocuses poke their heads out of the snow and think about all the fun that spring has to offer. Trips to the Botanic Garden. We’ll look forward to dining al fresco again. And before you know it, the tomatoes will be in season again, just as succulent as you remember them. The point is, there are wonderful things about it all, as I know you know already. I’m just reminding you. 😉

  4. Hugh and Walter says:

    Kevin, We’re happy to recall the days of your visit. It meant a lot to us. And we are eager for the next.

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