Henry James wrote that the two most beautiful words in the English language are "summer afternoon." Henry James did not live in south Georgia. If he had, his opinion, in my opinion, would have been somewhat different.
Had Henry known the sensation of spontaneous perspiration, if he had contended with the puddling of said perspiration in the crooks of his arms, the folds of his eyelids and every stitch of his undergarments, Henry may very well have said that summer evening or, more appropriately, the two-syllabled evenin' are the two most beautiful words in the English language. And had he done so, I would have heartily agreed.
Once the convection oven sun eases her way past the horizon, leaving behind nothing but soft blue-gray light of summer dusk, it is possible to see and hear the voluptuousness of the season — the color wheel of green that spans every shade from chartreuse to hunter, the soprano crickets and baritone toads. The streaks of color just above the horizon that look like chalk drawings on a sidewalk. The low and steady insect buzz that moves in waves across a newly-mown yard, its smell tart and clean. The chill of new dew on bare feet.
There is a special kind of languidness imposed by summer evening. It is neither lethargy nor laziness, but, rather, a welcome inaction, a permissible stillness in which few over the age of 12 ever indulge. And, so, when the first signs of autumn emerge from the edges of the day — a chill breeze or a singular red leaf — the words "summer evening" change key, move from major to minor chord and make a person wistful for the season that will soon be gone.
It wasn't a particularly busy summer, this one nearly past. Not like last summer where it seemed there was an out-of-town wedding every other weekend, too many weeds to pull and flowers to dead-head, no opportunity to take well-earned vacation days. No, this summer spent itself in small incalculable increments, like pennies falling from a pocket hole, and as the earth spins us toward fall, I wonder where went all the days.
There is a moment, though, that I will remember for a long long time. One night an old friend and I took some beach chairs down to the very edge of the surf on St. Simons. The waves swept up thick and dark like curls of chocolate just before they flattened out into silver leaf under the light of the full moon. Up the beach the silence and the darkness were broken by a group of rowdy teenagers with flashlights and my friend and I expressed, simultaneously, the wish that they would just go away. Anyone, we agreed, who could not appreciate the serenity, the near-sacredness of such a moment just needed to go inside.
We spoke in low voices, my friend and I, voices just loud enough to be heard over the shoosh shoosh of the waves. We spoke, as people who have known each other a long time do, of the passage of time — its speed and its consequences. We spoke of the people we are and the people we had thought we'd be. Bittersweet is too strong a word to use to describe our words and the tones in which they were delivered. No bitterness for two people whose lives have been relatively easy, no saccharine sweetness for two people whose vision is clear.
Soon the words trailed off into the night and we sat, still and thoughtful and facing the moon.
The summer is done now and the perennial garden is going brittle and brown. The summer is done and the porch light is coming on sooner. The summer is done and there are no photographs of exotic places to post on Facebook, but I will remember it for this: There are worse ways to spend a summer evening than sitting on the beach. There are harder things to do than be silent in the presence of a good friend, one whose history overlaps yours at angles no compass could measure. There are heavier burdens to carry than a beach chair and a pair of shoes.
I know this and I am grateful. And because there are worse and harder and heavier, the gift of that moment under the moon is nothing less than grace.