Editorial: August winds and clean slates

Friday, August 11, 2017

The editorial cartoon (shown above) on Tuesday’s Opinion page featured a horrified young boy staring up at the monstrous shadow cast by his back-pack, which is laden with new school supplies. A lunchbox handle provides the eyes, pencils the ears, and a ruler and book are perfectly situated to serve as the outstretched arms of the projected beast. 

Maybe the boy is right to be frightened. It is summer still, but fall lies in wait.

The first crisp early-evening breeze of August is an interloper by definition, a harbinger of autumn and the sworn enemy of summer dreams. Nobody knows this better than the school-aged child, who tastes in that cool air something of what Proust tasted when he dipped his madeleine in tea. The present is powerless against a past – or a looming future – conjured by the senses, and so the child inhales deeply. The sparked memory is pleasant at first – Halloween? Apple-picking? Jumping in piles of leaves? – but soon ethereal remembrance gives way to stark clarity: The air tastes like the ashes of summer vacation.

As August day after August day floats down into the abyss of time, the child begins to understand what Robert Frost knew painfully well – that nothing gold can stay – and so resistance to autumn’s approach slowly gives way to resignation.

It is within that acquiescence that the shadow monster dissolves into emptiness, which turns out not to be emptiness at all but the very thing that gives the first day of school its inherent beauty.

It is, in fact, a clean slate.