Mary Schmich column: Another summer. Again, a gift


By Mary Schmich - Chicago Tribune



CHICAGO — Several days ago I got an email from a friend who was taking a few final days of vacation. She’s a teacher, which means that unlike those of us who can tell ourselves that summer lasts through September, she knows hers is almost gone.

She described her 72 hours of walking by the water, driving tree-lined streets, lingering over coffee.

Her vacation report wasn’t dramatic. No cliffs climbed or rapids run, no foreign countries conquered in a week, just the essential summer pleasures of taking life at a slower pace than normal, taking time to notice the air, the light, the flowers.

“Home tonight,” she wrote as she signed off. “Then back to school. Another summer. Again, a gift.”

Another summer. Again, a gift.

Ever since I read those words, they’ve been lodged in my brain like a song hook.

This is the time of year when those of us who live in the cold climates have to admit we’re on the summer downhill. I know I say this almost every year, but that’s because it happens every year.

Facebook fills up with back-to-school photos. There’s a day when the temperature doesn’t crack 75. Then there’s a second day. And is that a yellow leaf on a tree?

Here in late August, the present tense fades to past.

Listen to the conversations around you and you’ll hear it: How was your summer? What was the highlight of your summer? Who did you see? Where did you go?

Was. Did. As if it’s over, which for most people it nearly is.

But rather than lament what’s fading, it’s good to remember that it was a gift, still is.

All summer I’ve thought about one of my best friends, who died in May. She loved summer as much as it can be loved. She basked in it, sitting outside with the newspaper in the morning or with a book at night, walking in the warm evenings with her dog. It’s the first summer in nearly 40 years that I haven’t spent some summer time with her.

Every now and then in the summer of 2018, when I’ve sensed the sun on my arms or noticed the long afternoon shadows or sat outside for a meal, I’ve thought about a conversation we had in January about her plans for summer. We plotted when we might spend a few days of it together.

But she didn’t make it to summer, which has made this one even more precious to me.

Another summer. Again, a gift.

In mid-August several years ago, when the brevity of Chicago’s summers had finally sunk in — oh, it’s going to be short this year too! — I start signing my emails with the valediction, “Happy remains of summer.”

That’s the summer phase we’re in now. The remains.

According to one dictionary, the word “remains” means “the things or parts of something that continue to exist when other parts or things no longer do.”

In the remains of summer, something’s gone but much is left. There’s still time to ask: What haven’t I done this summer that I still could do? What have I done that I’d like to do again?

One evening last week, after leaving the office, I headed for the “L,” in a hurry to get home.

I was just steps from the station entrance when some mysterious hand pushed me in an unexpected direction, past the “L” stop, toward the Riverwalk. I glanced at the clock on my phone. I didn’t have time for the Riverwalk.

The mysterious hand kept nudging, and I heard a voice:

“How many more chances will you get to walk along the river on a summer night?”

So instead of squeezing into an “L” car, I walked next to the water, past boats and kayaks and people sitting riverside. Some were sipping wine or beer. Some were reading. Along one stretch, away from the crowds, some sat in Adirondack chairs, some with their eyes closed, others watching the world go by.

I got home 45 minutes later than I’d planned but the night seemed, in the best way, longer. Sometimes, especially in summer, the time you invest seems to pay you back with more time.

Another summer. Again, a gift.

Enjoy the remains.

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By Mary Schmich

Chicago Tribune

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