I love summertime. It makes me happy in so many ways. I love the heat and the sun, the long days, being outside, and working in my garden. I love having adventures with loved ones, being out on the water, or just walking along the Puget Sound, finding shells and pitching rocks. I love driving at night, with the windows down, warm air rushing in, the radio blasting. I enjoy watching movies outside, and Shakespeare plays, eating outside on restaurant patios, and grilling on my own.
I love summer vacations, road trips to the desert or the coast or the mountains. I have excellent memories of being with my family in our camper, travelling down seemingly-endless highways, pulling into campgrounds, anxious to see if there were open campsites. I’ve seen – and felt – summer in much of this country; with all of its sun, aridity, humidity, fireflies, lightning storms, and even torrential rain.
For me, this has been one of the best summers I can remember: my trip in May-June to Paris and London; constant sun and blue skies; my garden at the new house has been a delight, producing green and yellow beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and zucchini (promptly turned into zucchini bread like my mother used to make, which is another summer memory); various wedding celebrations for the son of my adopted family; and time spent with friends.
There has also been transformation. My body is changing, and healing, and telling different stories – for once, stories of improvement, not deterioration; V is preparing to go away to school and embark on her adult life; I’ve been stretching my skills and facing my fears by doing a lot of enjoyable and fulfilling SPRe practice sessions; I started dating, and am now seeing a lovely man, with whom I’ve shared day-trips, visits to the beaches of Puget Sound, and dinners on restaurant patios.
Saudade is a Portuguese word that is untranslatable, yet incredibly evocative. It connotes sad and happy feelings experienced together, a deep, emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone. Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo defines it as, “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” I love this grasping of the duality that feelings and relationships can contain; the complexity and flavor that darkness gives to light, sorrow gives to joy, regret gives to happiness.
The last few weeks, along with my summer joy, I have also been experiencing a peculiar melancholy; my own special saudade. It’s not a bad feeling, not unpleasant or overwhelming or anything, but it is persistent; slightly shading my thoughts as I go about my sunny days. I realized that it is not an unfamiliar feeling for me to have during this time of year, and I have given a lot of thought as to why, during this adored time of the year, I might also be feeling like this.
In part, it’s because it is during the summer that most of the hard things that have happened to me – have happened: the deaths of both of my parents; the death of a good friend; and being horribly ill – twice. For me, there will always be a duality to summer that doesn’t exist in any other season; grief and delight I hold equally.
And while these last few months have been transformational, they have also been transitional. V going away to college means changes to our rhythms and relationship, and in my role as stepmother. Changes in my body open up new questions, new possibilities – and new fears – in my physical and emotional lives. New relationships, while a blessing, mean old ones have truly ended.
And last week, I scattered the last of my father’s ashes on the side of Mount Rainier, finally bringing him to join my mother, and closing forever my year of grieving; during which I’ve come to terms with being without parents, closed up the life I built around my father, lost family ties, and cried the kind of tears that are both insuppressible, and deeply relieving.
There is also – always – the grief inherent in the cycle of the seasons. Days, once long, begin to shorten, and darken early. The sultry heat once thought unending, cools gradually until windows must be closed and more blankets found for the bed. The garden, which started out as little shoots of green lettuce and curls of beans, has matured and produced and is now tipping over into dried out and done. One is always aware that the calendar is progressing, and that the year must end. One is always aware that one is aging with each day.
My melancholy has allowed me to “suffer the pleasure” of how much I have loved this summer, with its transformations and transitions, new experiences and new relationships. Things are changing – I am changing – and there’s some grief as I age another year, and say goodbye to what was, while I experience the joy of what is, and what is coming.
I know the ending of the summer brings good things of another sort; sweaters, rain on the skylights, curling up inside with a book or a loved one, followed by the birth and blooming of spring. Everything has its time, to be followed by the next thing and the next, and I try to enjoy it all.
But I do love summer, and I love saudade; the sour that gives piquancy to the sweet, the sorrow that limns the joy and makes it perceptible to the heart.