For the Week of July 3, 2016: Remembering the Joys of Summertime


…After a morning’s surfing; paddling frantically

To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,

Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor’s

Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.

Is that all I have to write about?

You write about the life that’s vividest.

And if that is your own, that is your subject…

(From: “Ground Swell” by Mark Jarman, in Questions for Ecclesiastes,  1997)

I’m in transition as I write this post.  A temporary one, but one that is a welcome change from my daily routine.  It’s a chance that, as I age, is more difficult to recapture.  Rather than complaining about the heat, in a few days, I’ll likely be chasing waves along a beach with a seven and five year old, playing games created by one or the other, and reading them my favorite Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (a children’s book by Canadian author, Mordecai Richler) with appropriate dramatic flair at bedtime.  This year, I’ll be privileged to join  in the silliness and excitement of another grandchild’s birthday–her fifith–and show my exuberance and gratitude for the birthday gift she has been saving to give to me—a set of three plush Minions—because, she told her mother when she chose them, “Gramma loves the Minions.”

In short, I’ll morph into a wild and crazy grandmother and for a few short days, share in the joyful abandonment of my grandchildren’s summertime.  It’s the kind of joyous play that takes me back decades to the sheer exhilaration of childhood summers:  playing kickball, racing friends across the lawn, blowing soap bubbles in the afternoon breeze, eating ice cream cones in the hot afternoons,  climbing monkey bars and swinging together at the playground.  Every day was full of dreams and new adventures in those long ago summer times.  Our whole lives lay before us, and anything seemed possible.
In those years, every summer’s day was filled with activity.

As a small gang of neighborhood children, we raced through on sidewalks and neighbor’s lawns to explore the nearby fields and hillsides.   We lived completely in the moment, happily oblivious to the challenges of adulthood.  Summer signaled freedom from school and homework.  It was enough to lay quietly in tall grass and find faces and shapes in the clouds above us.  We relished family vacations, softball in the park, swimming in lakes or community pools, or running through the sprinklers on a hot afternoon.  We crawled through barbed wire fences to pick blackberries from wild and thorny bushes.  We caught butterflies, frogs and lizards, searched for arrowheads or buried treasure in the hillsides and turned Manzanita bushes into secret fortresses.  There were picnics with watermelon, sleepovers under the stars, and evenings filled with hastily scripted summer theater, circus acts and parades to entertain our parents.

Now that I am many years older and live in a climate where the variation in seasons is less obvious than other parts of the country and summer is synonymous with wildfire season, I often forget the joy that once was summertime, falling prey to the adult demands of daily life,  too often filled with appointments, household tasks or work that requires I be at the computer.  It’s much too easy to forget how glorious a sunny day can be, how precious life is, how much—and how quickly–life seems to change as we age and how we become stoo busy to pay attention to what’s just outside the window.

It’s why, in part, I love being in the company of my grandchildren.  They pull me into their delight and joy in the world around us rather than having their attention consumed by computer games and mobile devices.  I fear that day will come as they grow older, but  I pray they can hold on to the wonderment, imaginative play and exploration of the natural world for as long as possible.  In a world so filled with turbulence, crises, and violence, being able to live in the exuberance and abandonment of a child’s summer day for a time, restores some of my hope for a world in which hope sometimes seems increasingly elusive.

“Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?” Mary Oliver asks in her poem, “The Summer Day.” The poem reminds me, as I know my grandchildren will also do , how joy can be found by simply allowing ourselves to be present to what is alive and beautiful around us,  to care for and replenish our natural world as it, in turn, replenishes our spirits.  Oliver writes:

…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

(From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press,1992)

Writing Suggestions:

What can you write about?  Write about the most “vividest”   memory or memories you associate with childhood and summertime.  s  Alternatively, write about noticing, being in Nature and simply paying attention.  You might also try responding to the question, “what do you plan to do “with your one wild and precious life?”

May you rediscover some of the joy of summertime as I am.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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