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Jewish World Review
June 26, 2007
/ 10 Tamuz, 5767
The first moment of summer
I confess: The moment when it dawns that summer has arrived, when the heat shoots up and the lassitude descends, and the sultry scents of the Southern summer permeate the air, I eat it up. All of it.
The childhood memories come flooding back: the whirring ceiling fans and sleeping porches, the buzzing night drives with the windows of the old Chevy down to catch a breeze, the sound of gravel crunching under the tires as we turn into the Hires root beer stand, the blessing over the first fruits of the season plums, peaches … cherries! The annual Sunday School picnic with all the kids, and the long, hot bicycle rides exploring new neighborhoods all by myself.
Most of all, what comes back is the sense that all this will never end, can't end, that summer hasn't just come but come to stay. From now on, we will have nothing but sun and sudden showers and, most of all, time.
It was as if everything hadn't just slowed but stopped. One ever repeatable summer day and balmy night would follow another forever and ever. School would never start again. And no one would wonder why. Summer had come. To stay.
That feeling of never-ending summer may be as close to immortality as a Southerner can come in this world, this now ever green and succulent world called summer.
There was a time when I had no words to describe the feeling. And was content not to have them, more content than I am now. Words just stir you up. Why not just accept? That is the wisdom of childhood. And it is behind me now, and beyond me. It is lost, never to be regained.
Now, on that one day every year when it first hits me summer is back! I wish I were still capable of that wordless acceptance. Instead, all these words, words, words go jangling around in my head, and I have to go describe everything. It's a sickness. Logophilia can be controlled but not cured.
It always comes as surprise when that first, all-pervasive feeling of summer strikes. Yet it is so familiar, so dependable annual that it might as well be noted on the calendar, like the phases of the moon. Maybe it would be if it weren't so moveable a feast. And so individual a sensation. Some get it early, others late, still others may not feel it at all. They're too busy to pay attention, too involved with their own lives to live.
For the rest of us, there's no doubt about the feeling, only about just when it will strike. When it overtakes you, there's no mistaking it. It's like a warm tide in time. It drenches you with memory and sensation, the culmination of all summers past. Things change, you change, but not the first feeling of summer, the familiar shock of recognition.
Walker Percy called it a repetition. The time that has elapsed since the same experience last year and all the years before brings home how you have changed and haven't.
There is a calm happiness about the feeling, and a wistful melancholy. The joys of summer are varied. Summertime, and the livin' is easy. The joys exist side by side with the knowledge that this, too, will pass that the leaves of the calendar will continue to turn, and when falls arrives, you'll be glad of it after all the stultifying heat. But that's an abstract kind of knowledge just now, not the kind you feel in your bones on the first, really warm day of the season, when summer just is. And is more than enough.
You may not be sure Whom you're addressing, but you want to say: Thank You.
An ancient Jewish blessing, one said on festive occasions, rises to the lips of its own accord:
Blessed is the Lord our G-d,
King of the Universe,
Who has preserved us in life,
And sustained us,
And allowed us to reach
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