I opened the back door a few mornings ago and, overnight, the weather had changed. A breeze was dancing in the branches of the trees and that breeze did not carry any moisture. It was as simple as that.
There is always a morning, every year, when the tease of fall makes an appearance. A morning on which you can breathe without inhaling air so thick and hot that you wonder why you bothered. A morning on which a sleeve of some sort is needed. A morning on which the simultaneous dryness and stickiness of the previous three months is nearly forgotten.
A tease, however, doesn’t stay. Fickle and selfish, by mid-afternoon she is on her way and the yard is full of dragonflies — the heat having risen sufficiently to warm the flight muscles that enable them to hover, dart and hover in endless repetition. Watching them in a swarm from the front porch I can pretend it is still summer, will still be summer for a while yet.
It is not that I don’t like fall. I do. Harvest and the smell of just-turned peanuts, the drone of the cotton picker and the mesmerizing sight of plowed-over fields being burned off. The taste of apples not grown thousands of miles away and an excuse to wear a turtleneck.
It is not that I don’t like fall, but I dread winter. The winter that comes cold and wet and mean after the Christmas decorations are all put away. The winter that is stingy with daylight and too generous with biting winds. The winter that turns rocking chairs into skeletons.
On this day, though, it is not even the dread of winter that has draped me in melancholy. It is, I realize as I watch the trees dance, grief. I am grieving summer, the summer that wasn’t. The summer during which I never saw the ocean, never breathed salt air, never stared at the sand in search of pieces of sand dollars. The summer during which I never got on a boat, never felt the bounce of the wake beneath me, never watched the sun break into diamonds on the surface of the water. The summer that held me, held us all hostage to what we knew and couldn’t control.
I am shamed, for sure, that I am even calling this feeling grief. This summer has held real grief for far too many people. But I also know that denying the effect the pandemic – with its social distancing and masking and washing my hands until they are raw — has had on me, on all of us, is not helpful either.
So I grieve.
I remember something I wrote once about there being only so many full moons in one’s lifetime and I realize that there are only so many summers, so many days so long that there is time to daydream, so many hours in which to sit rocking on the porch while condensation rolls down a glass of something sweet, so many minutes in which to watch butterflies float and to discover a praying mantis in the basil.
I know better, though, than to remember and ponder for too long. I have grieved before, people and relationships and opportunities, and I have learned that at some point I must box the grief, wrap it in beautiful paper, tie it up with beautiful ribbon and set it aside. It will always be there, but what I didn’t see, smell, taste this summer must not keep me from loving what I did.