Doyle: The True Meridian

Jun 30, 2015

About a decade ago, an English teacher friend of mine ruined the 4th of July for me. At the end of the school year, my first as a teacher, I'd expressed excitement about the languorous yet productive summer ahead: the summer I would finally turn page 1,174 of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, paint my house, and spend a week on the Long Trail.

After all, summers in Sutton Village as a child had been endless. We never went anywhere, did anything, or saw anyone. I spent my days convinced that the exciting life I deserved to live was out there, maybe in Lyndonville, just waiting for me if only my dad would give me a ride.

Adulthood would be an opportunity to employ my own agency and use summer days as I saw fit. But my friend, a seasoned veteran of the classroom said, “Oh, I don’t know. June is like a Friday afternoon when the bell rings, the 4th of July is like Saturday night, and August is just a Sunday spent grading papers, waiting for Monday. Basically, it’s all over after the 4th.”

Immediately, Proust went poof and I wondered if it would be possible to paint outside in November or if an afternoon hike in Hubbard Park might be a trail long enough.

While summer solstice is weeks earlier, the 4th of July is the true meridian of summer. The holiday celebrates freedom and independence, but the possibility and the beauty summer holds is as fleeting as a fireworks display. There's so much to do. But never enough time. As a result, I sometimes feel a kind of dread when the 4th rolls around. It reminds me of the worms from Dead Poets’ Society, whispering in my ears “Carpe Diem. Seize the day.”

But a great irony of life, embodied in poetry and the passing of summer, is that beauty is beautiful in large part because it is fleeting. Summers seem endless to a child because the end is unimaginable. Like Keats’s Nightingale, the child “singests of summer in full-throated ease.”

This 4th of July my own young children will visit with their cousins, eat some s’mores, perhaps cower in fear or clap in joy when our town’s night sky is painted with shimmering streams of light. Hopefully, they will sleep soundly, unaware that these moments will soon be remembered - but past. When they do, my own sense of dread will fade a bit because due to them, I know that while summer passes, it also lasts.