As Summer Ends

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work, Emeritus

SEPTEMBER 05, 2018

On to the Season of Contemplation

At the start of the summer, I wrote about How Many Summers do You Have? It could easily have been about how many winters or springs or Labor Days, but the timing was right for summer. In New England, summer always seems especially short and sweet. After cancer, anything sweet is likely to be bittersweet, and summers are important.

How did your summer work out? Did you do most of the things that you hoped? Did you get to the beach and eat your fill of fried clams? Did you hike or kayak or visit with friends? Are your feet tougher because of lots of time spent barefoot? Did you read at least some of the books stacked by your bed? And did you make sure to eat lots of ice cream? Or did the days and weeks somehow slip by, so that now here we are, once again past summer's prime.

For me, 2018 was certainly not a routine year. After almost 40 years, I retired from the BIDMC Oncology Social Work Program at the end of June. The sudden change in familiar routines was wrenching, and it continues to be a transition. It is a pleasure not to have to awaken at 5:30 each morning, but the new patterns and rhythms are not yet familiar. I spent much of July at our tiny cottage by the water in Maine. I was sometimes there alone and sometimes with others whom I Iove. It all felt like an extended vacation, and I was surprised that I was ready to come home at the end of the month. I wanted to begin to build my new life, to work in my growing practice, to write and read and spend time with grandchildren.

None of this went as planned. As it often does, life intervened. My husband injured himself hiking and needed shoulder surgery. Blessedly, it went well, but he needs to wear a huge and ungainly sling for six weeks, and is limited in his activities and what he can manage--and he can't drive. As I have told our friends, he is always positive and soft-spoken, and his grumpy moods are still nicer than my good ones. It has all been completely manageable, and we are very aware of our good fortune, and the temporary nature of his disability--but it did impact summer plans.

Autumn in New England is my favorite season. We always have some glorious blue-sky days and continue to be surrounded by the bounty of summer. The tomatoes and corn are still piled high at the farmers' markets, and they may taste even more delicious as we know their days are numbered. The nurseries are selling chrysanthemums, but I am not buying them yet. Instead, I am tending the summer garden and noting what is new each morning. It is time to adjust our sights and consider autumn.

Just as I advised at the start of summer, how many autumns do you think you have? And what is most important to you during the shortening days of fall? I look forward to pulling out my favorite old sweaters and baking bread and not dealing with the humidity-frizz of my hair. And, since I love language and metaphors, it is the right season to contemplate life and mortality.

Nature closes down in a blaze of glory. There is nothing self-pitying about the trees as they turn to scarlet and gold. Yes, the tender greens of youthful spring are beautiful, but so is the patina of autumn. If you walk in the woods in early fall, the sweet-smelling, newly-fallen leaves are soft under your feet. If you return even a few weeks later, the sweet smell has passed, and instead there is a dry crunch. Nature wastes nothing as every molecule of life enriches the soil for what will come later. The stars in the cooler dark nights seem even brighter, and we must be reminded of the vastness of the sky.

Consider autumn. And be glad.

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