For many people (especially children) there is an uneasy feeling when the calendar page is turned from August to September. The primary reason for this is that “no more pencils, no more books” time is winding down. Children and teenagers have to shake the dust (and sometimes sand) off their thinking caps and have to face the realization that the long sunny days of free time are over, and they know that means “early to bed and early to rise” time, followed by studying, homework, and test taking.
Saturday was September 1 and I was on the next to last day of vacation with my wife and daughter on the East End of Long Island. That morning as they slept, I slipped out the door to get coffee, breakfast, and the newspaper. What was very surprising was the brisk wind, the clear blue sky after a night of rain, and the overall feeling in the air that summer was really over. We all know that in reality summer doesn’t end until later in September, but that first day of the month and, more importantly, Labor Day, basically signal the end of summer as people close up cottages and bungalows, stop wearing white, and prepare for the long, dark days of winter.
We returned home late today and, since the cupboard was bare, I ran into the local drugstore for some milk, juice, and other supplies to hold us over until tomorrow. Imagine my surprise to be greeted, not by Back to School signs, but by Halloween decorations hanging all over the place. This kind of intertwining of seasons is particularly confusing since I was just swimming and sunning on the beach, and I don’t associate those activities with Halloween since it’s usually rather chilly around here by then. Yes, I knew summer was ostensibly over, but I guess I didn’t realize just by how much (at least in the retail world).
I started thinking about the importance of Labor Day, not just as a day to honor workers (which I think is quite an admirable thing in and of itself), but more as a benchmark in the calendar year that reminds us of something tangibly important in life: reality. While we all love the freedom of summer days and the carefree lifestyle associated with it, we know it cannot last forever (unless we are some self-appointed “dudes” living the all-year-round dream in Hawaii or the Seychelles or someplace else like that).
I live in shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers during the summer months, that is when I’m not diving into the ocean or a pool somewhere. I enjoy being able to read what I want (as opposed to the books or reports and documents that are necessary in my other life as an educator), sleep late, and spend time with my wife and daughter doing “fun” things. I can sneak some writing in during these times too (my three published books were all completed during the summer when I had the time to put finishing touches on them).
There is the opportunity to travel, whether it is a long voyage across the globe or a jaunt to the end of Long Island. There are long days available for seemingly endless games of baseball, Frisbee tossing, or interminable volleyball matches between all the assorted family members assembled for barbecues in backyards. There is the wonderfully fecund scent of the grill sending good smoke into the sky, the sizzle of the hot dogs and hamburgers, the sweet chill of the glass of lemonade in one‘s hand, the buzz of the insects being sucked into the blue light of the zapper hanging on the porch, and the soothing sounds of crickets chirping the night away.
All the wonderful fleeting moments coalesce and touch memories for those of us old enough to recall many summers past. Having lost my mother and aunt last year, I remember many happy summers in our beach house at Breezy Point (New York). After Mom was done hanging out clothes on the line (my shirts never smelled better), she and Aunt Margie sat on the porch telling stories while the mosquitoes tried to attack, and I had the feeling that the calendar was forever stuck on July and I was free for an “Endless Summer” as promised by the Beach Boys album. Every time I hear their song “Surfer Girl” I get a bit choked up as I recall those happy boyhood days.
Of course, the younger people reading this may only have a few summers to remember, but no matter, I am sure they represent the same thing in a different way. There is a feeling of relaxation that permeates the mind and body, a sense that all the things that matter really don’t anymore (even if they will again in September). Summer is a recurring honeymoon, a bon voyage that is always rather “bon” by nature, the express train to Candy Land, Oz, and Disney with no return trip needed. Kids run wild and free in the sunshine, a blur of tanned limbs and bobbing heads as they rush up a hillside, across a beach, or through a forest.
Yet, despite all this celebration of being free, I find the turn of the calendar to September exhilarating, and I have felt this way since childhood. I always loved the smell of fresh school supplies: sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, and the stiff pages of new textbooks. There was always a feeling of awe with my thinking that I, as a tabula rasa each school year, would be etched upon and thus become closer to the essential knowledge of the ages, passed down from Aristotle, Euripides, Einstein (et al) to the teacher or teachers of the moment.
I still feel this excitement now, wondering about meeting new colleagues, seeing my new students for the first time, and learning as much (if not more) from them as they will from me. It is this symbiotic aspect of education that has always had the greatest appeal for me: the idea that we learn and teach as we teach and learn, thus making ripples start in the small pond that will someday become waves in the ocean. It is an always occurring and reoccurring process, and that is what I like most of all. Education always begins anew each September, but it never ends.
So, as we celebrate Labor Day, let us not forget those who work hard to educate our children. Let us remember all those who work hard everywhere doing all sorts of jobs, but also let us acknowledge that this is the day that marks an ending and a beginning. In this way we can embrace the change in calendar and seasons and face the reality of responsibility, but also know that with those cooler days and falling leaves comes the fright of Halloween, the bounty of Thanksgiving, and the beauty of the holiday season.
Occurring and reoccurring, the cycle brings us back again and again. Thus, we get to a point we have always known and yet we revel in the great expectations of what each new day will bring. Ladies and gentlemen, I think that is what reality is really all about. So, let us appreciate the days and months ahead and remember that summer will return for our enjoyment in 2008.