It’s always felt a little strange to me that summer begins at the solstice, the longest day of the year. Shouldn’t the longest day mark the middle of summer, the high point from which we begin the long slide toward winter? And yet, from here the days get warmer, if not longer, the grass drier, the trees dustier. Our children have not yet begun to get bored (with any luck), and (with any luck) we are moving toward times of vacation and respite, not looking back on them.
Somehow the summer solstice manages to be both a beginning and a mid-point, the start of the line and the apex of the curve. But isn’t that just the way of things? Don’t beginnings, middles and ends turn out to be far more muddled than we ever imagined? The loss of a job feels like the world is crashing to an end, but turns out to be the seed of a new career. The beginning of high school turns out to be the end of childhood. The middle part of our lives is already arriving when we feel like we’re just starting to catch on to what it means to be married or a parent or a person with a career.
And, of course, the endings, middles and beginnings all overlap. We become passionate about a new hobby at the same time that we are comfortably in the middle of a career path, or we welcome a new baby as a parent is coming to the end of their own life. Only in the calendar to we have the chance to neatly mark the seasons, to declare when exactly one thing starts and the other leaves off.
In fact, what the calendar does is merely to assign names and numbers to the fact that change is part of the natural order. The seasons will move along in their predictable courses, but on any given day the weather will probably be hotter or colder, calmer or stormier than you might have expected. Making patterns is what we do in hindsight. Living is what we do in the moment, dealing with the elements of each day as it comes along.
But the choices we make in each moment are what build the patterns, what allow us to look back and say “That was the summer of my life.” The poet Marge Piercy writes:
We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.
Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth's curve
but whose destination we can now alter.
May this summer solstice find you on a road toward your heart’s desire.