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It’s late June and I’ve been waking to the sound of birds singing, their singular voices building into a small vocal ensemble each morning.
But for the whirl of cars from nearby highway 580, there’s almost complete silence until just around 4:50 a.m. And then, one by one, the bird calls begin. Like crystal glass chimes, they ring out in their own unique song.
I’m not versed enough in bird species to know which type of bird is singing. But their sounds bring me a simple peace each morning. I lay there listening, pretending for the moment that climate change isn’t happening, that my backyard will remain a lush oasis for birds and squirrels and all manner of creatures until eternity. I am brought back to the summers of my youth in Maryland, to the endless days that bled into nights, to the open plane of imagination that enveloped me, the freedom to dream and the presence to each and every feeling and emotion and sense that my body would take in.
I am in the midst of a second childhood summer. After having left my corporate job to pursue this here communications consulting business, I am remembering what it means to slow down again, to take in the bird calls and the morning sunshine streaming through my windows, to drink my coffee with extra special attention to the balance of flavor. Hmmm, extra strong today. Could use a bit more cream. Maybe a touch of cinnamon. Or, actually, just right.
When I was growing up in Maryland, summer mornings had this same richness of presence. Each day started with a short list of to-dos that my mother would leave for me as she left for her job at the local Sears retail store. I embraced the chore list. It gave structure to an otherwise endlessly loose day.
My favorite chore was watering the plants in the yard. I’d go out just after breakfast and before the heat of the day. The air was thick with humidity and the smell of grass, and I’d drag the garden hose with me from one side of the house to the other, hovering for several minutes over the bushes and shrubs interspersed with marigolds, impatiens and hibiscus plants. I stared into the greenery lost in thought as I gave each plant its fill. I loved those mornings.
Later, I’d return indoors to finish the rest of the tasks that Mom had written for me – empty the dishwasher, dust the furniture in the living room, maybe work through the laundry. I didn’t mind any of it. Mom was at work and I just enjoyed the freedom to move about the house as I pleased. I ate as much Honey Nut Cheerios as I wanted. I played 80’s pop music loudly and sang and danced with abandon.
By late morning, my two best friends, Christine and Summer (could one have a more perfect name?) would join me for escapades about the neighborhood. We went swimming in Summer’s pool, went on “ghost hunts,” played along the creek near the big red farmhouse, and by evening, joined up with other young folks in the neighborhood in a game of kickball or Ghost in the Graveyard until the sun went down.
My summer days have a similar rhythm lately, and I can’t help but feel like I’m being transported in time. Am I ten years old or 42? Am I waking up in Maryland or California? Maybe somewhere in between.
I start the day now with a chore list – emails to return, text messages to respond to, dishes to put away, that check that needs to be mailed. I recently discovered the joys of streaming music with Sonos, so now I play jazz and world music (okay, and the occasional 80’s station) all day long. The songs echo throughout the house. I still sing and dance with abandon.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about the state of summer vacation for kids, particularly for those from families that are financially challenged. Today’s kids grow up in all kinds of households, raised by one or more parents that have to hold down full-time jobs outside the home. Gone are the days when kids could stay home all day by themselves or even have a parent stay at home to look after them. The internet poses all manner of opportunities and dangers at the same time. And one never knows just how safe your neighborhood really is. Wasn’t there a car theft just around the corner the other day? Who’s that stranger out on the sidewalk?
The same day I read the New York Times article, another friend shared a sad piece from the Washington Post that painted a picture of what it’s like to grow up in “the screen age.” The article follows a 13-year old girl, Katherine, growing up in a time when social media has exploded. Her presence to everyone and everything around her is subsumed by the constant feed of messages, likes and emojis from her social media streams. Those messages and virtual spaces define her reality and how she views herself.
Reading those articles, I am reminded at once of the freedom of youth and the confinement that we can find ourselves in the midst of in this present age. Most kids who are Katherine’s age don’t know of a reality any different than the one she’s surrounded by. It’s easy to be lost in our smartphones, our laptop computers, our personal dramas, our own state of being, not taking in life with a wide-angle lens.
Times have changed indeed. This summer I am navigating my way through a jungle of correspondences to be answered, articles to read and be written, work to be done, bills to be paid, aging parents, aging muscles and bones, hopes and dreams and the beckoning call of something new-old, familiar-fresh. My chore list is longer and more complicated now. The garden is mine alone to be responsible for. But oh the richness of this summer with its bird calls, sunlight-streamed mornings, coffee meditations and freedom to chart one’s course. I am ready for the wide-angle views of life again. I am ready to listen again. May this summer bring the heart of all matters into focus.
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