Love's Labors Not Lost
Labor Day picnic, three years ago: by the time we got to the lime sugar cookies and the last of the strawberry-basil cocktails at the end of a long, leisurely brunch, we were all pretty bummed out. Summer was over, we’d concluded, even as that Monday’s ninety-degree heat and humidity crept stealthily in from the screened-in porch. Since the guests were, to a person, either academics or clergy—and I think these professions incline us easily toward this unfortunate melancholy--a certain lugubrious mentality set in, as if we were each admonishing ourselves: Time to get off the jet ski and back into the classroom. Time to doff the tankini and snap on the dog collar.
After everybody left I poured another strawberry-basil cocktail—the better to be primed for washing dishes—and surveyed the damages. There wasn’t such a mess, but it was too hot to begin the clean-up (summer not really having ended just because we had said so). So I stashed the drink in the fridge, grabbed my phone and took a walk. On the way I called my daughter, expecting our conversation to wax nostalgic as we invoked memories of back-to-school shopping and first day jitters. But it didn’t even come close to referencing the old-long-since. Madeleine is readying herself for a month-long yoga teacher training in Montreal to start in a handful of days. She wasn’t looking backward, but forward.
It occurred to me that if our current mental states could be described in terms of yoga postures, then she was doing paschimottanasana--which is a seated, forward-facing bend--and I was torqued up in urdva dhanurasana, a backbend, your gaze going behind you. The Sanskrit name for it even sounds as though you’ve got your head where it shouldn’t be. It’s a perfectly fine pose, but I was liking Madeleine’s philosophical approach better at this point. Forward-facing is a good way to greet the weeks ahead.
Too much of the end-of-summer hype hastens a pre-emptive seasonal affective disorder inappropriate while it is still light out past the cocktail hour and you can and will be able, for a long time to come, to walk the dog without either you or him getting frostbite. This Monday morning quarterbacking that plagues our Labor Day weekends threatens to eclipse the fact that there is quite a bit of growing season still ahead of us.
Some years ago when I was going through a divorce, I found a poem by Louise Gluck called “Vespers.” In it she talks about the nerve of her garden to still be in such blossom so far into late summer. She describes, “clusters of tomatoes stands/of late lilies—optimism/of the great stalks.” She’s nearly shocked at the promise of a continued harvest. The poem was a great comfort to me at a time when I thought I had reached the end of so many things that had been good in my life.
But then again, life has a way of playing tricks on you. A dozen years after first reading that poem I come back to it and these are the words that resonate now: “Are you saying I can/flourish, having/no hope/of enduring?”
Those words would have buzzed right by me when I was in my thirties. I had young kids in those days. Durability was more important than flourishing back then.
Now the idea of flourishing holds a prominent appeal.
These days—even on a day when friends communally rue the fleeting ease of summer and dread the early alarm—I want to keep the season with me a little longer. Or maybe what I mean to say is that I want to remember where I am right now, which is sitting in a pool of sunshine, typing out these words to let you know what Louise Gluck’s poem taught me about late summer, “….some things/have the nerve to be getting started.”
Best not to overlook them.