Reflecting on Summer During the Pandemic
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work
JULY 02, 2020
Some years ago, I had coffee with a dear friend who had also been treated for cancer. Thinking about our health histories, but also about life in general and the natural process of aging, she said: "How many more summers do you think that you have?" That question has stuck with me and comes up for reflection every year.
Due to COVID-19, this summer is going to be quite different. For those of us who are counting our summers, that is a difficult truth. I talk with many people who are living with advanced cancers. They are aware that their lives are closing, and losing the treasures of this season means that they may never again have the chance to eat fried clams on the dock or watch a Cape Cod sunset.
As everyone knows, no one is going to live forever. No one leaves this world alive, as they say. For those of us who have had a cancer diagnosis, that reality is very clear and present in our thoughts. In the first months of panic, there is nothing settling about this reality. As time passes, it can become a helpful reminder about perspective. We learn not to waste our time on people, projects and activities that are negative, uninteresting or hurtful. Summer is an excellent example. This summer is a greater challenge, but can bring the same lessons.
In New England, at least, summer is fleeting. In the brief months, we have some days that are miserably hot and humid, some that are rainy, and a precious few that are perfect. We need to focus and truly see and feel those perfect days as well as the others.
As we have all been shut in our homes, there has been time to truly watch the slow unfurling of spring. Instead of racing out the door in the morning, we have been able to look to see what has changed. My mother-in-law had a sign in her home that said something like: Every day in the garden, there is a new miracle. This year, I have seen them. There have also seemed to be many more birds around, and some that ordinarily don't come this far north. We need to watch them, to see the hummingbird outside the window, the circling gulls, the colors of the water, and the feel of the air on our skin.
This means several important things to those of us who have felt the cold breath of mortality. We need to notice; we need to remember, and we need to fill our lives with as much beauty and happiness as possible. Don't let this summer pass without doing the things that are the essence of the season for you.
It is sadly true that some of those things may not be possible. If, for example, you count on a big family reunion over an August weekend, or going to the Boston Esplanade to listen to the concert and watch the Fourth of July fireworks, it won't be possible. Suggesting that you consider substitutions like a Zoom picnic or watching the fireworks from your own patio just won't be the same. Focus on those summer traditions that are possible.
My list is probably different than yours, but I need to wiggle my toes in a sand beach, eat fried clams, have a gin and tonic at dusk, sit (or better yet, lie on a blanket) and look at the stars, admire the fireflies, go barefoot as much as possible, and be near and in and on the water at every possible opportunity.
Autumn will come all too quickly, and we can't go back. Pay attention to summer and its meaning in your life. Especially, this year.