The Summer of Collected Memories

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock

Facing a litany of summer let downs due to COVID-19, I became insistent my family, in our conscious efforts to slow down, mask up, and stay home, would still have a long list of positive memories. Oversimplified and less monumental than summers prior, it was imperative we gathered a collection of sweet, tangible experiences of our own to hold and enjoy. But, first, we would allow ourselves the space to mourn our personal disappointments: the canceled annual vacation, refunded summer camps, no pool days, declining offers to gather, not visiting loved ones with vulnerable health conditions, avoiding crowds and community, only attending virtual mass, and sorrowfully missing our friends and family. Then, we would rest and appreciate the slowness, embrace this time of stillness and isolation, and despite the litany of mourned losses, we would find a way to make the best of it—together. Although, at the beginning of this summer experiment I had rampant doubts about how we would pull it off, I believe we exceeded our goal and succeeded in our efforts to “discover joy amid the pain.”

Once virtual schooling came to a halt, my husband and I scoured Airbnb for in-state cottages and cabins to our liking, in our modest price range, and declared 2020 would be the season of locating the quaint and hidden gems nearby. The fruits of this idea did not disappoint. Intentionally, we spaced our bookings apart so we would have one adventure to look forward to every month of the summer. We filled in the downtime with ease by including treks to local parks, camping in our yard, gathering for family game nights, and letting the days unfold on their own. The choice to have a combination of planned getaways and unscheduled stretches of time spent at home attributed to a quite happy and wholesome break. By allowing ourselves the occasion to branch out toward sections of the state we’ve not visited before, and returning to the areas we favor, we discovered newfound delight in local exploration and realized ourselves more in awe of our awesome state and enamored with the town we live in.

Another unexpected advantage to the pandemic summer was the making of an outdoor retreat tucked away in the woods on the property where my husband grew up. Frequently when visiting my father-in-law, we’ve walked the area together—especially in the winter months when the overgrowth has fallen and our boots can crunch atop the frozen earth. The freedom we found this summer allowed my husband and children to embark on a project together, and they set about clearing out a more direct path from the house to the forest, lining the grassy lane with bits of wood and rock, and making the connection between the house and back property a more delightful experience for everyone involved. Now the children can roam and run free between the yard and faraway wood without the distress of thorny entanglements or fear of getting lost. The joy in carving out this special place has allowed us to share with our kids the type of summer fun we fondly remember having—hot summer days spent in outdoor intrigue, hours gone investigating the natural world, making outdoor revelations on our own, and finding a piece of oneself that can only be uncovered under the shade of a tree, breathing in the fresh air, one’s skin soaking up some Vitamin D. The chance to gift a piece of our past to our kids, to allow them to encounter for themselves the unhinged joys of a simplified and rural encounter, was an unexpected blessing of the summer—a highlight all of us agree upon.

Creating this hidden world for our family to treasure was also an opportunity for peaceful reclamation. Shielded from the cacophony of worldly anxieties, the forest cover has comforted and cocooned us as we dealt with the stressors surrounding and threatening us on a daily basis. Within the personalized hollow, we could forget it all for a little while. We hung up our hammocks between the trees as our Boy Scout practiced and refined his outdoor skills, our youngest daughter worked to identify plants and wildflowers and took polaroid pictures of whatever drew her eyes into focus, and our youngest son walked the length of logs, climbed atop piles of dirt and debris, and gathered sticks and rocks. Nearby, my husband delighted in working to improve the nature-given space, and I indulged in a new novel, read between the camp chair and a hammock, and wrote in my journal. We lit fires and ordered pizza for dinner, looked up at the sky and marveled at the blue, and listened to the symphony of sounds of rural Ohio as we bathed under the light filtering through the trees above us.

A few weeks ago, my kids donned masks on their faces and strapped backpacks to their bodies, climbed the stairs into their school bus and chose seats near one another, then waved good-bye to my husband and me as they drove off to the start of a new school year. I see a difference in each one of them and it’s not just their sun-kissed cheeks and golden highlights, not just the inches and pounds added to their frames, not just the new shoes and crisp uniforms. I believe the difference is apparent because they’re shining from the sound interconnectedness between them, made stronger from the calmness and maturity they’ve gained, are restored by the ability to be resolute and resilient in anxious times, and fully renewed from having spent a season seeking joy in the minuscule moments of life.

A new time has emerged now, and I’m looking forward to what discoveries await us in the autumnal season. I know there will be more silver linings to weave into our familial story, sweet memories to create together, and small, not insignificant, moments to cherish. As 2020 comes to a close—thankfully so—I’ll spend the next few months measuring the milestones, maintaining the closeness, and continuing to make the best of this unprecedented time by demonstrating to my kids how gratitude is possible even on the worst days and remaining intentional about reminding them: all we have is today. So, let’s live it well, while we can.

We have grown dull toward this world in which we live; we have forgotten that it is not normal or scientific in any sense of the word. It is fantastic. It is a fairy tale through and through. Elephants? Caterpillars? Snow? At what point did you lose your wonder of it all? – John Eldredge

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s