A Wasted Summer?
Disclaimer: Written deliriously at 4AM
I have found myself tossing restlessly in bed several nights this last week, plagued by a guilt that I wasted the summer away. This sensation arises from my ambition, not my memory; it comes because I consider the task of this summer to have been study, and when I reflect upon the studies I successfully completed these three months, I find that I did not attain anywhere near what in June I hoped to. A few essays out of dozens, a couple books out of scores, this blog, some research with a professor- I tasted a mere drop of the ocean of scholarly knowledge I hoped to drink.
And then I recall that I did not see a good many of the friends I hoped to see, either- my list of people to visit sits by my side, only a a few names checked. So many old faces I vowed to see, and indeed I saw them! But only in my mind.
Beyond these two broad areas, a dozen other goals I had taunt me from realities which will never be. I didn’t get a job. I couldn’t find an internship. I promised a friend I would send her letters over the summer- I only sent her one, and it came back stamped ‘Address not Valid.’ I failed to pay my tributes at the shrines of Jefferson or Madison, Hamilton or Washington, Adams or Franklin. I spent far too much time in front of a computer, and far too little time in the beauty of Virginia.
I tell my Dad of this, and he spends hours coaxing me out of my paranoia. (I love my Dad- I don’t think he knows precisely what the right thing is to say, but everything he says is epic, and he usually says enough of it that I’ve forgotten my anxiety by the time I stop him.)
And today, after a similar grey period followed by one of Dad’s pep talks, I took a run for the first time in several weeks. People say periodic and regular exercise makes you healthier and happier, and the empirical evidence I have observed points to the truth of this aphorism. The cloud-mountains high in the sky soaked up the sun’s gleaming, dying rays; the warm moisture of the Earth emanating from the pavement and dirt below us carried on it scents of beautiful decay; the green darkness of the forest peaked between branches and trunks; and the bugs and birds sang that riotous chorus of Virginia’s evening woods, deficient in the machine-gun chirps of Washington’s squirrels but fully recompensing for the loss in sheer volume of insects. Half my senses drank this in, the other half attentively listening to my Dad’s sermon-on-the-run on leadership.
The run, as every run on a normal day so magically tends to do, expelled all bad feelings previously lurking about my heart. And in this lightened state, some pictures of summer came to mind.
Lifting and placing great flat boulders in a muddy gulch. (Michael Bell and the Appalachian Trail Club accompanied me.) Paddling the Foleys’ kayak up through the shallow, narrow rapids of Aquia Creek, where John Smith once dared not go. (Eventually I had been turned back by the creek’s sheer impassibility in its upper reaches.) Parading about northwest Washington, D.C. with my family, Jake and Zach and I fully suited in our Class A Scout uniforms, seeking out (by code) sites and markers critical to our Boy Scout heritage. Schmoozing around in a restaurant with my colleagues (or FRIENDS) from SCIR, and moving tables about in a Starbucks, by the pure generosity of our hearts, with friends and colleagues from Near Crisis. Discussing with Artur Galystan the secrets and gossip of SIR business and success. Long hours in the trusty old minivan, all of us kids asleep, talking to Dad about politics. Upon a windy summit in the front range of the Appalachians, a summit called Old Rag, the best, Virginians say, in the State. Visiting with Jake’s friends, good friends of mine too, in the weeks after Jake’s graduation. The dignity and fun of the graduation day, the majesty of the hundreds of black-robed students in the heat of the sun, and the timeless stillness in the light of the Christmas lights put up in our yard- those greatest decorations. Grueling days of toil and sweat in a land we once called home, Carlisle, moving furniture for Uncle Steve and Aunt Jackie to their new hilltop abode. More grueling days doing much the same for our good friends, the Foleys. Long drives across the vastness of the mountains, through the heart of Appalachia, a true America if there ever was one. Pleasant visits with cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents, our blood, in Columbus, Ohio. Nights tending the fire, admonishing those who follow, watching the sparks journey to the height of the sky, there forever to keep their vigil in their extinguishment. The sins of the strip of Myrtle Beach, a center of young-people’s vacationing which, though it need not be returned to, must be visited. The sweet taste of rain contrasted to the salt of the sea, in the rare pleasure of a rainy day at the beach. Historic forts and headlands, houses and markers, proofs of a time that once was in Charleston, and never again will be. A speech delivered by Ehud Olmert, while all around me the ants of Washington stood listening. A thousand hours in the heady traffic of Washington, and a thousand country roads whose charm was in their place. Treasured books found in forgotten stores and basements, some given as gifts, some dirt-cheap, from the Civil War Store out in Wilderness to Grandma’s house to the antique shack in Fredericksburg. Pretty girls in the coffee shop Hyperion who should have been embarrassed by my compliments, had I been brave enough to give them. Spacious sandbars in the river’s midst, at Aquia Landing, wondrous places to view the orb of the sky in all its mighty glory. A fat cat who we call ours, who calls us hers. Meteors which cast their cuts ever quickly, lightning storms miles off which appeared to me as purple flashes in the night, the prettiest damn thing I have ever seen. The seventeen thousand candlebags in the Fredericksburg Cemetery that night, flickering in geometric pattern, showcasing the seventeen thousand souls buried beneath, dead by cause of failed politics. A raucous ride o’er the battlefield, through its woods; a less well-thought out one through up the mountain of Jefferson, one where I found in myself a thirst to explore; a fine, if rushed, tour on bike of Charlottesville. A bus trip to Knoxville after a pleasant evening atop mighty Union Station; a good few days with Heather Duncan, then; and a tour of Knoxville and a good trip back, talking to strangers. Fireworks on the carrier Yorktown on the day of our nation’s birth. Lawnwork and more lawnwork for Mom in our backyard. Festivals and fairs in the parking lot of our Church. Thoughts on the shore of the Potomac. Helpful hands in Francis House. Walks in that hall of heroes, the Marine Corps Museum.
All this, which I recall at this ungodly hour, does not even begin to list adequately all the things I did this summer.
It turns out that I did not truly waste summer, after all. It was chock full of a good many things which I would never have gotten to do had I not been home with my family.
I will return to USC content that I did not waste my time, that I in fact utilized my vacation as a vacation ought to be utilized. Now next summer I may very well spend in scholarship and work. But I will bear in mind that, so long as memories are made and life is lived, no time is truly wasted.