Here it is, a little before dawn, at the turning of the Wheel of the Year. It is nearly Lammas, and I am awake early, listening to birdsong. The highway rush of traffic outside my house has not yet begun, so early on this Sunday morning, but the birds are in full chorus, and I cannot sleep.
I am awake, and I can feel the turning of the Wheel. Summer is already beginning the downhill slope toward fall, and my heart and my body are full of the sense of that.
Partly it is simply a matter of there having been a break this past week to the stifling heat waves of July. Partly it is that fireflies have given way to crickets, that the black raspberries are past, the native corn and tomatoes are in, and the blackberries are beginning.
And partly, for me, a teacher, it is that the rising and falling plot of summer is already past its climax.
July is the unmaking month for teachers; it is the month when we forget our classrooms, forget our students, and forget our armored, dedicated, laser-focused selves. It is the month of forgetting appointments, losing track of time, and drifting through hot days the way we might have drifted, when we were young, down a slow river while draped over a pudgy inner tube. It is the month when we forget to be old and wise and full of plans, but putter: Peter on household carpentry projects, and me in the kitchen, learning to make pickles and jam. July is when we slip outside of time.
Unmaking the selves responsibility and effort have hardened us into during the year. For no matter how much we may love our jobs and our students and our lives, there is something about wise, carefully-planned, tightly scheduled living that is inimical to something else inside us.
I remember when my parents retired, after a lifetime of work as teachers and school administrators, how the habits of often-frustrated, hard-working people seemed to melt away, and they seemed to recover their youth. I watched them play with my daughter, teaching her to swim or to drive a boat, and I watched as faces that had been tight for years in concentration relaxed again into laugh lines I could remember only from when I was very young, from the days when a piece of ironing turned in my mother’s hands could be a benediction, and my father read us poetry at supper.
For a while, when I was older, they seemed to go away, those happy people who begun my life. But when they retired, they seemed to find those selves again. They seemed to remember who they really are.
We all need some retirement.
We all need some times of letting go, remembering, coming home to give thanks and rest, and to remember who we are. Lammas is that climax of that time within the teacher’s year–the time of fullness, contentment, relaxation and drift.
My face is a different face when I have ceased to look into mirrors for a week, a month, a season. This is especially true when the mirrors I have not been watching are the eyes of thirty adolescents, reflecting myself back to me, but in images colored by their anxiety, their newness, their anger or hunger or boredom or (rarely) their joy. My face is a different face when I have lived for myself alone a little while.
And I like it.
But the Wheel does not stop turning, for me or for anyone else. And I can feel the beginning of the end of this season out of time. As surely as the crickets’ song will end, summer will not last.
This morning, lying wakeful in the hours before dawn, I thought again of school. I remembered my students. I remembered my classroom. I slipped again, as if I had never left it, into the state of mind that plans lessons and wonders how to reel my students in, get them popping, get them thinking, arguing, listening, and learning to write it down.
I imagined the first day of school. I thought about whether to buy a better pencil sharpener for my room, or to have the students write journals again this year. I thought about the school newspaper I will be helping build, and what my new classes would be like.
Lying there in bed, I put my armor on, donned, just for a moment, my professional self: just tryed it on for size. Just oiled the joints, looking for rust or worn spots that will need repair before I go out to the lists again in fall.
August is when the sheaves of wheat are put up in the barn, when the flour is ground, the vegetables set by, the fruits of summer preserved against the long winter. August is not the end of summer, but it is aware of endings; it is grateful, but it remembers the coming times of want.
The Wheel turns, and I am turning with it. No summer lasts forever, and here I am again, back in the flow of time.
Images: Woman Kneading Bread, from the National Archelogical Museum of Athens, via Wikimedia Commons.
I love the way the image looks not only like a woman kneading bread, but also like a teacher standing before a class.