Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Summertime and the livin' is easy ...

Who hasn't heard that song from Gerschwin's Porgy and Bess? Who hasn't sung along - and loved it? More than any other summer song, it seems to capture the idyllic fantasy of summer. Still, it's just a song.

For me, summer has always had two meanings. First, there is the physical summer - a season of insufferable heat and humidity under the glare of what Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet famously called "the garish sun." Then, there is the psychological summer - a disordered time of no school, vacations, and the seasonal suspension of ordinary activities. I've never had any use for the physical sense of summer. I'll take winter over summer any time! The psychological summer, however, is more complicated.

Summer is, after all, the privileged time for vacation travel, and I admit I have had some wonderful summers "away" - Mexico in 1988, Israel in 1993, Windsor and WYD in 2005. None of these were, strictly speaking, vacations. They were all ministry-related and entailed a certain amount of work. But it was different work from ordinary work, and in a different and exciting place to be, with interesting experiences I would never have had at home. And, while I haven't been to the "beach" in years, I do treasure my memories of those 1950s summer days at Orchard Beach with my many cousins. Best of all, there is the "lazy" side of summer - less work to do or at least more time in which to spread it out, and lots more time to feel free to "waste." Grad school was that way. I remember those summers at Princeton in the mid 1970s. Even if most of the day was spent in the library studying, it was long-term study, not focused on work due in the immediate term. And even graduate students managed to seem more relaxed in the summer and so more willing to "waste" quality time with one another. (While air-conditioning has almost made summer physically endurable, one downside of it may be the lessening of that summer laziness, as now we try to operate more normally, doing more normal work in summer than we used to back when it was physically just too hard).

Certainly summer - the psychological summer - has some real merits, although even its merits derive precisely from its being a temporary exception to the rest of the year, a hiatus from the ordinary, ordered time we still associate with the cycle of the common school year.

For much of my life, the two summers - the hot physical one and the lazy psychological one - roughly coincided. School ended in mid-to-late June and started up again in early September. July and August were generally the hottest months and also the preferred vacation time. Sadly, global warming has not just made summers hotter but also longer as well - the physical season now generally including May and June, with the disappearance of spring also being one of the casualties of climate change. And one of the interesting challenges of life here in Tennessee has been adjusting to the front-loading of the psychological summer, as schools end in late May, and vacation time ends in early August. In the past, my eagerness to escape the physical summer and my emotional readiness to get "back to normal" at the end of the psychological summer went hand in hand. Now I find myself , at the end of a prolonged summer season, looking forward to getting "back to normal" in early August when there is still at least a month (and likely more) of heat and sun still to be endured.

Even so, what a great song Gerschwin gave us!

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