The ceramic pumpkins first appeared outside the local supermarket here in Colorado Springs in July. Social media feeds these days are full of back-to-school photographs and stories. And a pastor friend of mine kicked off a new fall sermon series yesterday.
Whatever happened to summer?
Of course, summer hasn’t gone anywhere. We still have a month of it to go. Arriving in the Northern Hemisphere each year around June 21st, the season runs through the autumnal equinox, usually around September 21st. The days in between are marked by warm temperatures and a wondrous litany of traditions for many punctuated by family vacations and a slower pace.
“May summer last a hundred years,” wrote the novelist Frances Mayes.
John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist best known for the woods bearing his name in Northern California, had a similarly romantic view of the season.
“Wander a whole summer if you can,” he once wrote. “Time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”
So, why then the rush to all things Fall? Is it a general spirit of discontent? Impatience? A craving for sweaters, crunchy leaves and pumpkin spice lattes?
For the past century, life for many families has revolved around the school year calendar. Whole industries depend upon the rhythms of nine to ten months of academics. From camps and resorts to sporting activities and all kinds of hobbies, moms and dads make plans based on the first and last days of school.
Growing up, I was always told the school year was based on the agrarian calendar. Back when most of America was farmland, families needed kids to be home in the summer to work the land and “bring in the sheaves” as the old hymn goes. It turns out, that was only partially true. Children were also needed in the springtime and harvest seasons – and local school calendars often reflected local needs based on the timing of regional crops.
Once upon a time, some urban schools were practically open year-round. In 1842, New York City Public Schools were open 242 days – but attendance wasn’t mandatory. But then came a push to standardize the school calendar across the country, thus the arrival of the 180-day year most districts follow today.
One can debate the merits and pitfalls of more school or less. Given the wokeness of so many public schools, many of us have opted to home school our children, rendering the traditional school calendar somewhat irrelevant. In so many ways, homeschooling is year-round anyway. “All of life is an education” is a good philosophy, and one that many families embrace.
But the annual rush to pack away summer saddens me at a deeper level.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” wrote the Psalmist (90:12). “What is your life?” asked James. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (4:14).
Life is finite – and so are summer days. The slower pace of this season – the days reading or playing at the pool or park, the extended meals on the deck, catching fireflies and taking casual walks at sunset – these days will pass all too quickly.
This passage is acutely evident in childhood. A child’s life may seem long – until you realize you might only get 18 summers with them, and less for many given school and work schedules.
I tell our boys I think it should be illegal to go to school in July and August. I’m only half-kidding.
Let’s stop rushing away summer. Let’s embrace it as the gift that it is. The falling leaves and coming cold winter will be here soon enough.