If you’ve tuned into this column the past couple of weeks, then maybe you’ve noticed a theme. It’s a topic as old as time — namely, how quickly time itself passes, even when we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking otherwise.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about spotting a bridal shop while running some errands, which reminded me of my own marriage more than two decades back. Had it been that long since I’d stood at the altar, pledging myself to someone else forever? Forever might be a long time, but 21 years, as it turns out, really isn’t.
I had a similar feeling a few days later, fishing around in our shed for some extra furniture my daughter wanted for her college living quarters. That’s where I came across the tiny table and chairs she’d used as a toddler. How had the calendar zoomed us at warp speed through her childhood? I had written about that, too — more to state the question than offer an answer. No one really knows why time flies. Maybe our best shot at wisdom is simply to recognize that it does, then shape our lives accordingly.
It’s especially easy to overlook that reality in summer, a season we’ve been conditioned since childhood to think of as an infinite resource, not subject to the typical laws of nature.
Which is why, as a public service, I try to periodically point readers to what’s perhaps the best column about summer ever written — an essay by then-Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene written many years ago.
As youngsters, Greene writes, we once thought of summer as a gift. “As we grow older, we allow summer to lose that,” he laments. “Summer doesn’t change — we do. The long days and warm nights that we used to cherish and linger over somehow become rushed and diminished because we don’t pay proper attention; we have jobs now, and responsibilities, and deadlines to meet.”
Something like that happened at our house the other night — on one of the first evenings after our teenage son had finished his school year. A storm blew through, knocking out the power for hours. He was struck by the drama of it all — the rain outside suddenly taking center stage from the television, which was now as dead as a brick.
But the evening’s impromptu theater — and my son’s sense that the rain was worth watching — failed to draw my attention. Instead, I answered emails before my smartphone lost its power, like a castaway obsessed with drawing the very last drop from his canteen.
“You’re missing it,” my son said, pointing to the downpour beyond the window. When a teenager says that you are spending too much time on your smartphone, then maybe an adjustment of priorities is in order.
Which is really the point Greene is trying to make. “Keep an eye on summer,” he tells readers. “Savor every day, every summer night.”
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @ Danny_Heitman.