Expressway: Don't miss the gifts of August
I think the last full month of summer has gotten a bad rap. Baseball's the only game in town. There's not one lousy holiday. And we're too cranky to shop or explore or learn. The movies might find sultry August days perfect for energizing activities like espionage, male strippers and foul-mouthed teddy bears, but for the rest of us, getting through this lackluster stretch can be tough going. We're aware of how we waited all year to swing on a hammock and read People magazine. We know that half a summer is much too precious a gift to waste on complaints. Yet it's hard to let go of the urge to achieve and simply appreciate this motionless, curiously silent month.
As far as I'm concerned, any month that produced science-fiction dreamers H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry has some life-enhancing lessons to teach. We just have to stay still long enough to absorb them. In a perfect world we'd be able, as the Parisians, Congress and most psychiatrists, to disappear under the shade for the entire month. For it's only when we're sitting still . . . snoozing, contemplating, thinking . . . that August reveals its purpose.
By the time we get to the eighth month of the year, we've earned our idleness. Far from being wasteful, it's essential. It's a soul-enriching opportunity to renew, rejuvenate and refocus the direction of our lives.
Chances are that since January we've been incredibly careless about keeping track of how we spend our time. Whole days are stolen and we don't even notice them missing. The masterful thief is the hectic pace we maintain. It keeps us absorbed in the future, and gives acquiring and maintaining things, being productive and getting ahead, more credence than they deserve.
It convinces us that we are legitimized more by what we do and what we own than who we are. August provides us with the glorious opportunity to catch our breath. It offers us time, shrouded in hazy humidity, to stop and reflect.
"The imagination needs long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering," writes Brenda Ueland in her book "If You Want to Write." She was giving instructions to aspiring writers, but she might just as well been suggesting August's agenda. Summer's end is the perfect time to let go, give in and be conquered by solitude. Before camp buses return and the tough chic clothes of fall appear, before thoughts of school supplies and red leaves and Filofaxes and new beginnings take over, we owe ourselves some idleness.
Augustus Caesar, after whom this month is named, pirated a day from February to make sure his month was as long as July, which was named after his predecessor, Julius Caesar. He couldn't have done so just to give us an extra day to be tired of summer. To whine about flies and slugs and sweat and thunderstorms. To berate ourselves for all the things we didn't get to do. I believe he slowed us down to give us a gift. Muse away.
Reader Marcia Byalick lives in Searingtown.