Light in August

Late August has its own unique character—the end of summer, wilting with melancholy, languid with hot summer evenings, child-joy being subtly eroded by shadow’s undertow, sundialing toward lockers and school clocks.

Being neither a kid nor a teacher, I don’t really get a summer vacation and this takes the edge off of late summer’s mournful meander.  I watch from the riparian netherworld—not so sad as the child I once was dreading that first day of school, mostly for being so far from that last day of school, but nevertheless still moved by the river of life, my boys’ lugubrious lament and their sweet regression to long-forgotten games where they left little bits of childhood parked in corners, closets and card-packs.

Full-on parents feel the secret relief of school and the opening of a slice of days while still savoring August the way we intensify our last licks of the ice-cream cone dwindling to that tiny morsel of softened crunch, and then it’s gone.

These dog days seem like no time for pondering issues beyond the dragonflies and the crickets.  The smell of water on hot concrete.  A sky that makes you naively marvel at a blue no human could have invented, a blue so perfect, and so perfectly placed.  Clouds forming off the pacific that will twirl and shape-shift over the Rockies and across the plains, thundering, gathering, cumulating and wisp-ing to the east-coast willows, rumbling over the Hudson to bring those booming late summer explosions, the air blue and exciting.

And on sudden it’s cool.  Leaves rustle ominously.  Collective sighs rise and rain back down again.

I dreamed of being my age but starting on the first day of an unfamiliar high school—and while actual high school was a nightmare, at least at the start, in my dream it was not so bad.  Being back in school is a classic dream and I always think of it as the deep Self clueing us that some sort of new learning is in order.  I’ve been missing old friends in far away places and maybe that is the positive side of school as a dream symbol, as in my dream the “kids” (some of whom seemed also to be my age, although unfamiliar to me) were rather nice.

While now school might be fun, it was quite confusing to me as a kid—I mean the whole gestalt of why I was even there.  Why is it that no one explains to us, as children, the simple reasons why we might benefit from the curriculum to which we submit or rebel, but rarely embrace and ingest.  Some strive to conquest and others cringe into the Eeyore state that is school for them, but few have any sort of map about why algebra leads to geometry or why history matters to their own future; perhaps the real reason that school very often feels like a burden is that it is endlessly about getting ready for the next thing, and never being truly present to the diem one is told to carpe… rather it is all about the dime one is supposed to chase, all the while it being whispered that you can’t buy much with a dime.

So, what’s my point?  Simply that the end of summer feels a certain lovely wistful heartbreaking way and while it’s a little different for each of us, the same sky domes us all.  I used to lie on the grass and stare up at the giant cottonwood in my neighbor’s yard, endlessly watching the little parachute seeds paratrooping through the cicada-screaming air.  I remember the freeze of the air-conditioning contrasting with the summer sun on my fearless skin, days before an open door to the yard made me think of the utility bill.

So, as our collective kids face the Sisyphus march to learning all about what they’re never really sure why, hunched below their towering book bags… in an era where books are altogether drawing toward their cover-bound, tree-shredding close, perhaps we can dedicate a morsel of our been-there-done-that well-seasoned hearts to compassion for the age-old doleful feeling that, mingled with the excitement of back-to-school clothes and and new notebooks and seeing old friends and making new friends, coldly tickles the little hearts of our brave good kids as they march forward into a world none of us really understand nor whose future can we envision.  What we can do is love, loving even that which we cannot understand or explain, that which enshrouds like a veil and breathes like curtains in the soft swelling afternoon of what may be fast-fading freedom or looming new friendships.

Namaste, Bruce

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12 Responses to “Light in August”

  1. Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce Says:


    You are a such a lyrical writer. You have deftly captured that feeling of melancholy as the summer ends. Now I feel sad at the thought of starting school, especially because I teach college and will be starting back at my work too.


    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hey Molly,

      Here’s to hoping that the light and the dark might mingle in ways that allow for truly new learning for all of us… and which may lead to a next holiday well earned and well enjoyed for us—and all our collective kids.

      Namaste, BD

  2. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I’d be content reading this whatever it was about. Dreamy.

    As for my sons, one is already into Week 3, the other, soon to wing his way back to college, and anxious to do so. Both welcome seeing their friends again, and at this stage, have a decent idea of why they toil. The melancholy in this house is more the mother’s, knowing how soon the nest will empty altogether, and recalling my own excitement so many eyars ago when fall approached, and the newness of its challenges was both a comfort and a source of excitement.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Poignant, this happiness for our kids and their broadening horizons and yet the melancholy of the quiet, empty house. I dread this approaching event horizon, and yet hope the emptiness will prove transitory and open out onto new vistas for us grown-up-yet-ever-being-schooled Selves. Sending All Good Wishes

  3. krk Says:

    Your writing becomes more beautiful with each blog.
    Thank you.

  4. Katrina Kenison Says:

    An elegy you have written, for all of us in the process of releasing the grip. It’s so easy to shield myself from the real emotions of early September, to get caught up in the line at Target, the planning, the execution of these departures. Rather than have a good cry in the empty bedrooms two weeks from today, I’m trying to remember to give lots of hugs right now. To feel the feelings and, at the same time, to hold my tongue when what I have to say to these messy, disorganized boys of mine doesn’t improve upon our easy togetherness. All I need to do is love them, not improve them. Thanks for the reminder of what matters, and of what’s really happening beneath the surface for all of us.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      In so many ways you lead the charge, Katrina—I just hope that when our times come for the good cry in the empty bedroom (and they come for all of us in some way or other) we might feel, and remember, that we’re all in this together, crying alone and at the same time not as alone as we might fear.

  5. Jessica Says:

    I have to agree that your writing keeps getting better and better!

  6. Rob Says:

    I realize I haven’t been getting the email alerts, so I am just catching up now! Beautifully done. I’ve always felt I limp through August and am reborn in September, probably a sense memory of the sheer boredom of Iowa summers in the 1970s, and the relief that September brought, with school, football, and cooler temperatures!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I think that shrinks may carry the classical vestiges of August off (even if we modern ones can’t take the whole month) and thus renew in the dog days and face the world in September. Still there is something sad in August, be it limping through boredom or counting down days of freedom.

      Either way, here’s to a bracing and renewing September.

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