Summer Solstice


This evening I went outside at about 8:20 pm to take my recycling container to the curb for early morning pick-up. There was still plenty of light for this time of day and I suddenly realized that the summer solstice would arrive this weekend. The longest daylight hours of the year. And that from then on, we’ll lose a minute of daylight every day until the winter solstice arrives in December. The year is halfway over. I felt astonished by that fact while simultaneously, I recognize that for the most part, in recent months, time has felt like it’s running through my hands like water. How is it possible that during this time of pandemic, quarantine and limited choices, that hours melt away while the lines between days blur? I’m sure there’s a psychological explanation for this phenomenon, although there haven’t been many moments in history like this one. Perhaps for other people, young ones in particular, the days drag on, seemingly endless in their monotony. Frankly, I don’t know much about anyone but me and those few people who are close enough to share their thoughts and feelings with me. I feel like I’m racing to keep pace with everything, from the little changes happening daily to my mind and body, to the news bombs dropping, lighting blazes that should keep my focus for a long time, but don’t because there are too many flaring everywhere.8D854780-826C-4E30-8022-C43DDD8DE84C
I’ve had an internal app for that which goes back to my twenties when I was trying to figure out how to rank what I needed to do in order of importance. I visualized this big ball of life, not particularly a smooth circle, but with bits of tasks protruding at the oddest angles. Eventually I learned that seeing the overall picture was one thing – trying to work with it as a single entity was bad news. So my inner voice repeated over and over, “break this down into smaller manageable pieces and do the most important ones first.” That rule has always worked for me and I’ve passed it along to my family and friends, even when they didn’t ask for my opinion. Lately, though, I’ve been struggling to stick with the program. Everything feels really important right now. So much so, that I feel a little lost in the rush of events.

This year I’ve had a lot of friends’ deaths and illnesses that have left their painful marks on me. My friend of 50 years, Julie, finally died after a long decline from cancer. Hers was the most challenging for me, part of a small group of women from my youth with whom there was still a deeply intimate bond. And there was sweet Nick who worked for Michael, victim to the demon depression, and Lidia, an artist and part of my social circle when my kids were young, taken by the coronavirus.  There were lots of famous  cultural icons who’ve died too. Kobe Bryant, John Prine, Little Richard.

The talented musician and lyricist David Olney is gone as is the comic, Jerry Stiller and Kenny Rogers, a musician from my childhood years. I started realizing I can’t remember all the deaths as they’re lost in a faceless sea of Covid19 victims. Is the virus the top priority? It’s still here and still actively tearing through our society. As with everything else, there’s a division between those who are taking it seriously and those who are basically done with it. I’ll never understand why wearing a mask which can potentially protect the vulnerable is so controversial for people. Impinging on their individual freedom. That says a lot to me. For a huge swath of the population, selfishness is the credo – not community responsibility. Right now I know four people who are in cancer treatment. The idea that simply crossing paths with an asymptomatic carrier could make them sicker during their time of being immunocompromised enrages me. ABC51E5B-D915-4D45-9789-C8D9C430AECBBut talk about lives lost. What about the boiling rage that’s poured into the streets all over the world? George Floyd could never have imagined what an international furor his murder would ignite. The centuries-old oppression of people of color is a deep stain on humanity. So much barbarism and so many lives taken. I can barely assimilate it all.  While the virus carouses and people of different colors and genders demonstrate for fair treatment, below our feet, in our waters and the air, climate change is churning away, threatening the existence of everyone and everything on this planet.
Climate change

World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert

International Energy Agency chief warns of need to prevent post-lockdown surge in emissions

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Thu 18 Jun 2020 00.00 EDT

Yesterday, I read the article with the above title in The Guardian. Hardly encouraging, to say the least.  So here we are. Volatile and at risk. Every day there’s something new to think about. North Korea blows up a building where negotiations for cooperation are taking place. A warning is given internally in the US about not resuming nuclear testing. India and China are warring on their border. Oddly, the Supreme Court handed down two unexpectedly liberal decisions which inflamed Trump who thought he’d effectively rigged that court. Frankly, so did I. What a blitz of wide-ranging topics. Swinging around mentally from issue to issue, I suddenly began thinking about Captain Brett Crozier. Remember him? 41BDC983-CF80-402D-BA55-5498B87E290FHe was the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who got fired for writing a letter about needing to dock the ship to prevent widespread transmission of Covid19 amongst his crew. They wound up in Guam, where many, including Crozier, tested positive and were quarantined. The way he was treated created blowback. The person who fired him resigned and there was a recommendation that Crozier’s commission be restored. But then, at least for me, he vanished from the headlines. I looked him up and found that in the beginning of May, he was reassigned to San Diego in a temporary position as assistant to a Naval Air Forces chief of staff. He is still being scrutinized in a further investigation. A big story that got little in a hurry, like so many others. Whew! What an exhausting whirlwind.

I’m slowing this cycle down. There are a few things in my control.  When I go out in the world I wear my mask, sanitize anything I can and wash my hands. I’m home almost all day every day, still practicing social distancing. I went to a supportive march for the Black Lives matter movement. I’m growing food organically in my garden and creating a welcoming habitat for threatened pollinators. I donate what I can to organizations that support hungry people and that are working hard to restore ecological balance in the world. I’m hoping we have more than six months for such a massive effort. I’m an ally to oppressed people of all colors and sexes and think often about how to do better in that position. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of writing to a young woman who won the scholarship named for my husband, which is annually awarded to a student who excelled in history and social sciences at the school where he taught. She wrote an insightful paper about Alexander Hamilton and plans to major in journalism in college. She was president of her Habitat for Humanity club and editor-in-chief of the school paper. She wrote that she has a social conscience. I’m so happy that I can in a very small way, carry on Michael’s engagement with young people and pass on his messages. I’m hoping to keep on with this tribute to him and those students as long as I can.

But I’m also going to be still.  I’m going to try to keep my head on straight. I’m going to enjoy my garden. I’m listening to new music every day. I’m watching the birds with my binoculars and enjoying their behavior as they cohabitate with me. I’m writing more. I need to draw more too. 2D4F0D35-3FAC-46DE-9F4D-1DC8EEC5B854When I’m with my grandsons, I want to have fun with them, but I want to teach them too. Making a contribution to their growth is important to me. Life is certainly busy, but I can contain some of the overwhelming parts. F9387339-C31A-4EC5-BBB6-DA23BB069EA1I ordered myself a little pool. Years ago, Michael and I had one and sometimes it was just great to loll around in cool water. I miss swimming and dream of it, but for now, this will have to do. Sometimes I just close my eyes and visualize Michael from head to toe, which has a remarkably comforting effect on me. I toy with writing a book on the sexuality of older women but so far my kids have begged me for restraint.

No matter what happens next, I want to savor these small moments. I have no idea what catastrophe may appear next. I do know how I’m not getting any younger and that my future will be filled with challenges. Time to practice self-awareness.  You can find me in my yard if you’re looking for me. Yell. I won’t be able to hear because of my headphones. I’m hoping I can use the outside as often as possible during the last half of the year. I don’t know how many years I get.  Not going to squander any time if I can help it.


2 thoughts on “Summer Solstice”

  1. Another meaningful post, Renee. I don’t want to put pressure on you, Renee, but you often express thoughts much better than I (and probably many others) could do and yet they are things with which we are wrestling. I am preparing to retire at the end of August and am thinking about meaning in my life.
    The garden has been a place for hard work and respite and joy during these past 3 1/2 months. As a family, we have opened up to getting together and our 3 sons, wives and two kids each now visit. This, too, brings happiness and hope.
    I am chair of the Flossmoor Public Art Commission and we are stepping up our goals of bringing art /sculptures that exemplify the diversity of the community. There are talented artists on the commission and I am pleased to lead these endeavors, as the non-artist of the group.
    Enough of my rambling.
    Thank you for your beautifully written pieces.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I think most of us who worked for the bulk of our lives, wrestle with what is meaningful after we step away from the structure that defined us in so many ways. I eased out of work initially by becoming the caregiver for my eldest grandson who’ll be 10 in September. The adjustment was huge. All day long with a baby and then toddler for three years. I learned a lot about meaning during that time. Sadly my husband’s cancer arrived during that period. After getting through his initial treatment, we got to the place where grandson #1 was going to daycare. I was to have a few months off before taking on the next baby. Bur Michael’s disease took a dark turn and I never was able to take care of my second grandson. My whole life was devoted to Michael until he died in May of 2017. That became my real retirement, a tough time as it didn’t look anything like what I’d expected. Michael’s parents both lived into their late 90’s. I never thought I’d be widowed at 66. I’m telling that story over time on the blog. I think I’ve written 10 chapters and still have a ways to go. They’re all under Be 278 with an additional heading.
      These three years have been hugely challenging. Since the virus hit, I’ve spent most of my time alone. My daughter and her family live right across the street from me so after we quarantined, we got to see each other. But their work schedules are hectic. I spend an afternoon or two a week with each boy. But I’m nor sure if that will be safe for me if they resume school.
      I’m writing, drawing, working outside and thinking my brains out. Somehow the formless days pass. I give myself assignments which make me feel like I’m doing valuable things, socially, politically and with the kids. I think we aren’t very good as a culture on letting ourselves be after decades of work. I volunteer but truly, I’m exploring my inner self while I read, study and just enjoy nature. Maybe I’ve over-responded. You can let me know.

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