We seem to live our lives in threes. Our days are divided into mornings, afternoons and evenings. Our stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Our weekends consist of Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays. If you get three strikes, you’re out. Even the Christian deity comprises Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Human beings, apparently, have a need for threes.
True, there are four seasons in a year, and the Irish divide life into four seasons as well (“20 years of being born, 20 years of growing, 20 years of living and 20 years of dying”). But in general, we don’t rectangulate, we triangulate.
One is forever splitting into two. Two forever craves unity. One plus One = Tension. With three, we seem to regain our balance.
Summer forms its own triumvirate. June is summer’s Friday night, our release from FallWinterSpring’s grindstone. The good weather hasn’t settled in yet. Psychologically, we’re just beginning to let down, but haven’t quite come down. Technically, summer doesn’t even begin till June 21 or 22.
July is summer’s Saturday. The weather may be hot but at least it’s consistent (the occasional biblical deluge notwithstanding). June has eased us into the slowdown mindset. In July, the turbulent, frequently disappointing spring has been forgotten. August lurks just beyond the horizon. Like Saturday, July is the eternal now, the month when past and future infringe the least. If you can’t take a deep breath in July, you never will.
Now we’ve reached summer’s Sunday, the least popular month of our annual “weekend.” Sunday night “depression” is creeping in. The stone is getting ready to grind again (especially for teachers and parents of students). The future hovers, crowding us, reminding us we have gears other than “R” (for Recreation).
But August and Sunday weren’t always like this. When I recall my childhood, what I miss most are Sundays. There was church and the fattest newspaper of the week and records playing on the stereo and the biggest breakfast. The afternoons were lazy — or active — as we pleased. Looming in the evening was not the dark foreboding of the week to come but the week’s best meal, shared in the dining room, surrounded by family, followed by the most popular TV shows or a movie telecast.
Sundays were special. Summer Sundays more so. We’ve lost a lot of that magic. And if we don’t know how to do Sundays anymore, we’ve probably also lost the knack for enjoying August.
We focus on football, for Pete’s sake (Rozelle, that is). Football is the sport of the grindstone. Baseball is — or should be — the sport that doesn’t watch the clock. But our teams are usually out of the running by August, so instead of savoring the timeless quality of the remaining season, we move on to the sport that personifies conflict and contact. We have all fall for football, but we still give away August to the gridiron.
Instead, it should be a time of untethering, for ambling instead of walking, for contemplating clouds and watching the wind untangle itself from the tall treetops in Austin Gardens, for surrendering the severity of judgment and relaxing the death grip of control on our corner of the known universe.
The word “august” means “inspiring reverence or admiration, majestic, venerable, eminent.” Instead, we refer to this month, the underappreciated third leg of our summer tripod as “the dog days” (named for a constellation, but still …).
August is the time to recognize that power does not lie solely with authority, that everyone has power — to delight, communicate, amuse, inspire, construct, facilitate, enlighten, persuade, explain, motivate, encourage, persevere, create, console, feed, entertain, generate, engage, clarify, mediate, counsel, attract, interpret, question, comprehend, start, finish, connect, appreciate, simplify, relieve, relive, redeem, predict, heal, reform, renew, collaborate, observe, summarize, summerize, organize, romance, or unite.
Not all of these powers are fully developed in each of us, of course, but it is enough to know they exist. In August, we need only the power to live comfortably within our skin, to give hurry the month off, to make peace with our circumstances and briefly taste something that transcends every one of our attached strings.