Today is my second-favorite day of the year.
My first is the winter equinox, the moment within the dark days of winter that the days begin, inexorably but suddenly noticeably, to grow longer.
And today? Well, today bears the fruit. The longest day of the year, filled with more hours, more sunshine, more hope, more productivity — or freedom to produce nothing at all, more potential than any other day. This phenomenon is all the more meaningful in 2020, with so much time, experience, and understanding having been lost to the crises we’re all enduring together.
I was a weird kid. (Surprise!) Most others couldn’t wait for the school year to end. But I loved and felt secure in the routines and rhythms of the school year. Lacking such security and structure at home, I felt, on the last day of school, like I was stepping off a cliff.
I’ve always been pretty good at taking care of myself, though, so every summer I’d devise routines and rituals to keep me occupied. I loved to swim and play badminton and hang out with my best friend Mary. But those occupations all required the presence of others, and often others were busy.
I tried, for a time, to join in the neighborhood-kid hijinks. I know a band of kids from my street and neighboring blocks played together all the time. But when I tried to join in, I always felt like an outsider, someone looking in, from outside. Kind of like a novelist, I later realized. Huh.
If you keep reading this blog, and I do hope you will, you’ll read a lot about loneliness. But, for now, and on the occasion of the summer solstice, I choose to focus on a happy antidote to my summertime blues: sleeping outside.
It did not occur to me until tonight, while I relaxed on my hammock on my condo’s little balcony, that sleeping outside has been a theme and a recurrent balm in my life.
When I was a teen, on my family’s annual summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland, I declined to sleep in the hotel room; instead, I slept, cocooned in a flannel sleeping bag that I still have and can still smell in my dreams, on the hotel balcony, where I could feel the sea breeze and hear the waves crash.
At home, in Rockville, Maryland, I’d string our sturdy rope hammock between two trees at the top of our little hill and sleep there as many nights as I could.
On the balcony and in the hammock, my young mind raced with possibilities, plans, and promises. Everything and anything was mine for the taking.
And then life took over. It has, in almost every way, been a great life. I have the world’s two most wonderful kids; I’ve had a terrific, rewarding career; I have awesome friends, a perfect home, a beloved Jeep, a beautiful kitten, and lots more to be grateful for.
But tonight, on the longest, fullest day of the year, I lay on my hammock and felt the summer breeze and smelled the flowering trees and suddenly, jarringly, felt like that girl on the backyard hammock and the Ocean City balcony 45 or 50 years ago.
The solstice is about balance. Neither the past nor the present nor the future is more powerful. Unless you choose one to be so. Most powerful of all, of course, is the present.
So that’s where I’m trying to be. Perhaps you’ll join me there.
Happy Summer Solstice!!