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Editorial: Summer’s end and a season of first days

  • Fall foliage colors a line of mountains in Chatham on Oct. 4, 2016. AP


Sunday, August 19, 2018

For most children in New Hampshire, one season does not slowly drift into the next. Summer begins on the last day of school and ends abruptly on that sleepless night before classes resume. Autumn and spring are not really seasons at all, but names given to collections of days that are not quite summer and not quite winter. And winter begins with the first snowfall, whether in October or January, and ends with the sun’s toppling of the last snowman. Within these seasons are sub-seasons called holidays, which are shaped and lengthened at will by advertisers.

There are no calendars in Neverland.

For non-children, seasonal rhythms tend to differ from person to person and year to year. Parents perceive the length of summer in much the same way as their children, albeit with a little more relief come the first day of school. Autumn and spring are soft seasons to be savored for their meteorological balance as much as their sharp colors. Winter, on the other hand, is pure chaos no matter how many years removed one is from childhood. Christmas shopping, impassable roads, sunless mornings, school cancellations, frozen pipes, shoveling, plowing, heating bills, more shoveling. There’s beauty, too, but it’s fleeting and built for treachery.

We will accept the cold when it comes, as spiritual teachers tell us we must, but this year we find ourselves clinging a little more tightly to this downslope of August. Maybe it’s all the rain, which has emboldened mold to unreasonably expand its territory (come on, not the grill grates). Maybe it’s the required nightly inquisition about whether homework has been completed (“kind of”) or at least started (“kind of”). Maybe it’s because summer is almost over and for us there will be no fresh start, that clean slate and life reboot known as the first day of school.

Yes, maybe that’s it. Of course that’s it.

The end of summer is a minor tragedy for most kids, but the first day of school cushions the blow. First, there’s the school supplies. Who doesn’t love a crisp new notebook and a pack of yet-to-be-sharpened pencils (with yet-to-be-depleted erasers)? Second, sometimes new clothes are involved. Will these new clothes be stained and possibly ripped old clothes by that first afternoon? Yes. Yes, they will. But now you have new weekend clothes. Third, you get to see your friends again. Remember how glad you were to see your co-worker return from vacation (mainly because you had to do their job in addition to your own)? Multiply that feeling by a hundred or so – that’s how Day 1 feels to elementary school besties.

True first days are annual rites in youth but elusive in adulthood. Sure, there are first dates, new jobs, new cars, new apartments, new exercise routines, new haircuts, new hobbies – but nothing quite captures the magic of school’s return.

Adult seasons are defined by calendars and the thickness of clothing; they are quarter-years operating under an alias, greedy steps in the ruthless march of time.

Four seasons, four formless beginnings, four formless ends – no first days.

This year, that changes.

As August gives way to September, we are determined to create our own first day. We will buy a new notebook (a journal to give definitive shape to our days) and a pair of jeans (new skin over old). We will reach out to longtime friends, because we know that some relationships have a way of bending time back on itself. Most importantly, we will try to rediscover that old feeling that was once so easily conjured at summer’s end: gratitude for a chance to begin again.