Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.
Steve Miller Band
Fly Like an Eagle
Time is slippery. Like water, it seeps through your fingers, no matter how hard you cup your hands to hold it. Eventually you’ll need your hands for something else, and time trickles away while you’re busy doing other things. Since we can’t stop or slow it down, our only option is to learn to enjoy the passage of time, as James Taylor sings in “Secret O’ Life.”
Learning how to enjoy time’s passage — you guessed it — takes time. First you have to work your way past the cliches: Time waits for no one, time heals all wounds, time will tell, and, of course, time flies when you’re having fun.
Time flies whether you’re having fun or not, but I am most acutely aware of its flight during the summer, which is the season I want to go slowest.
Yet here we are, already in the second half of August, and summer has been a disappointment, weather-wise, what with wildfire smoke blowing in from the West Coast and tropical storm moisture funneling up from the Gulf, and excessive heat indexes courtesy of global warming, plus our tiresome perennial Midwestern nemesis, humidity. The sunshine we worship went AWOL, hiding behind cloud banks and haze, and the sky turned 50 shades of gray instead of blue.
I wrote a column rhapsodizing summer just before it began, and the day the column ran (Murphy’s Law being the most powerful force in the universe) we went into our June swoon and never really recovered — although last weekend was lovely. I could accept all this if it were merely “the weather,” but much of our weather is now man-mangled.
The problem, I realize, is not so much summer failing to live up to my expectations as my desire for perfect summers, but I felt cheated nonetheless, and that made me even more acutely aware of the fleet feet of summer’s sprint toward autumn. As Thich Nhat Hanh wisely wrote, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent.” I don’t really want permanent summer — just one that feels leisurely and long.
To enjoy the passage of time, however, you also have to learn to enjoy the passing seasons. Enlightened detachment is not the solution. The antidote for being underwhelmed is actively finding true summer — a moment here, a moment there, inside and outside — and sometimes letting summer find you.
Sitting outside, for instance, on a comfortable mid-July evening in Austin Gardens for a stirring performance of Shakespeare’s valedictory, The Tempest, featuring another tour-de-force performance by Kevin Theis, who had been missing for several years from Festival Theatre’s stage. In the role of Prospero, Shakespeare’s alter ego, Theis rails and incants and bellows his intoxicating brand of bombast, channeling the Bard, who tried one last time to wring magic and mystery from the universe and inject it into life itself.
Summer showed up on the Salt Creek bike trail, gliding along the undulating ribbon of pavement from Brookfield to Oak Brook on my 47-year-old Schwinn Le Tour bicycle, propelled by my 69-year-old legs.
Summer was present at Brookfield Zoo with my grandsons, one of whom complained that “The zoo is boring. It’s just looking at animals,” but who managed a remarkable impersonation of interest when I gave him my keys to dangle in front of a seal who paused, mid-swim and upside down, an inch away on the other side of the glass to study it. My grandson complained again when it was time to go home.
Summer made an appearance on a beautiful Saturday morning under overhanging trees, surrounded by flowers at Friendship Botanical Garden in Michigan City, Indiana, during a memorial service for a revered high school teacher who recently died at the age of 90. In retirement, Alex Rakowski became the heart and soul of this place, his legacy urging us, we decided, no matter our age, to keep growing, listen with our hearts, and become truly human.
Summer accompanied an eight-hour trip up the center of Wisconsin to the North Woods, aka “an eternity of trees.” You might think such a long drive on the Interstate Highway System would be sterile and stultifying, but thanks to the foresight of Ladybird Johnson’s wildflower program, the roadway was lined with summer prairie blossoms all the way.
If that weren’t enough, the drive was enriched — courtesy of the Oak Park Public Library — by listening (with heart) to the audiobook version of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, perhaps the finest book ever written about summer and about being alive, which is the essence of summer.
And when at last we arrived at our remote destination, I found summer, or rather summer found me, surrounded by the unexpected quiet as I emerged from the car. Momentarily stunned by the calm, I was reminded of what an unremittingly noisy environment I live in and how much I needed this refuge, a thought reinforced later as we skimmed across a glassy, still lake in kayaks for the first time, accompanied by the lonesome wail of a loon.
On our way home, we passed a sign for Marathon County, Wisconsin, which included the marketing slogan that I plan to adopt and evermore apply to summer, no matter how much climate change messes with it, as well as to life itself:
“Marathon: Where time is on your side.”