(This blog post was originally published in 2012)
Having grown up in New England, I am no stranger to the feelings that accompany the change of seasons. Every seasonal transition from Autumn to Winter, Winter to Spring, Spring to Summer, comes with its own set of scents, textures, temperatures and tastes, all of which invoke familiar emotions and memories that will recur at these pivotal points in the year. Springtime usually brings me a sense of a new beginning and with that a twinge of anxiety about change on the horizon. It conjures up memories of my often Easter-themed birthday parties and wedging my tiny body through the ‘magical door’ gap in the yellow Forsythia bush branches in the front yard of our first home on Sunset Drive. Winter brings both the dread of cold weather and the delight of Christmas on its way - memories of chapped skin and sledding and racing my sister to be the one who got to unwrap ceramic Mary first for the special privilege of placing her on the mantle above our fireplace as part of the nativity scene (in no way symbolic of any religious devotion - our little creche was a happy signifier of the holiday season and its breadth of family traditions - and besides one sad little broken angel, Mary was queen of the scene).
But it’s the transition from Summer to Autumn that I still find most abrupt and unpleasant despite my love for Fall foliage and food. It’s particularly unwelcome in England where one is only afforded small tastes of summer at unpredictable times throughout July and August that don’t even come close to what those on the East Coast of Boston or Italy experience during the hottest months - scorching, sloth-inducing heat providing ample excuses to cool off with ice cream or gelato (or air conditioning). No, in England, there are enough sunny patches and warm days to get you packing away your jumpers and boots in summer spirit, but before you know it, the weather forecast has shifted full-fledge into another seasonal mode - that of grayness and rain and you’re looking for your Wellies. Your taste-buds and tummy never fully transition to craving raw salads and cool drinks - the kettle stays active brewing potentially more herbal varieties of teas, but warm beverages abound nonetheless. It’s like someone has served you the starter portion of a menu and then left you hanging on the main course with your mouth watering for some kind of seasonal satiation. Nope, every year during the summer months in England, I’m left to live summer through my memory.
The sense of summer from growing up by the beach, running through the sprinkler, frequently visiting the Dairy Queen, is etched so deeply within me that no matter how long I live abroad, my body will always seek the scent of sand, the sound of wind-chimes and the smell of an evening breeze off the ocean. My heart and soul will yearn for it and this will undoubtedly set my memory into action, desperately searching through the archives of summer experiences and associations in an effort to re-live them in a distant time and place, to make them present and near. But despite the mild changes in temperature from one season to the next and the limited opportunities to sport sun dresses and sandals in London, saying goodbye to summer is just as hard in England as it was in the U.S.
Last week I prepared myself to mourn the loss of summer. There was a particularly gray day where the air felt far too Autumnal for my exposed toes and I was sure that summer had reached its end. At first I tried to ignore it, even deny it. I refused to take a scarf or jacket with me and suffered a few goosebumps as a result. I even contemplated a spur of the moment trip back to the States to visit Crane beach for a last dose of guaranteed summer air and summer freedom - there’s no work to be done in August - take a break! Maybe if I did that I would get my summer fix and be able to embrace the dying leaves rather than lament the end of their greener days. But something whispered to me to stay. Something reminded me that with every loss comes a gain. When one thing goes, it doesn’t necessarily leave an empty place, it leaves space for something new to begin. And something reminded me that you can’t chase the sun. I tried that once when I was 22 and my boyfriend and I caught a glimpse of the sunset from the car and decided that if we drove fast enough we could make it to the beach to see it set from a better view. When we got to the beach, it was too late and instead of staying put and enjoying the view we had, we experienced a stressful journey and got home too late to eat the meal my mother had prepared for us (I can remember how unamused she was). So maybe my memories were enough to get me through until next year and maybe I could focus less on letting go of summer and more on what September would have to offer.
However, for a very special person in my life, it looked like September was only going to bring a lot of pain and because of that August would be her last month. This past week, the older sister of my mother, my beloved Aunt Marlene decided she had battled cancer quite enough for one lifetime and her body let go. Ironically enough, my Aunt Marlene is one person I always associate with summer. Perhaps it’s because we used to visit her, my Uncle Johnny, and cousins Heidi and Laurie in North Carolina, the Southern State she had chosen to migrate to in order to raise her family in the sun. They had a pool, in which she taught me to swim without getting my hair wet and besides which she one day placed her fingertip on the tip of my nose and declared that I had undeniably inherited a ‘bum’ nose like hers (has to be felt to be understood). When I think of my Aunt Marlene, I think of her tiny sun-tanned figure; I think of her on the golf course ready to achieve her 4th hole-in-one; I think of her sunny smile that reached from the corners of her mouth to the arches of her eyebrows. I think of her healthy and buoyant, sassy and silly, loving and strong. I think of and I feel the sun.
When one lives far from family members and loved ones in situations where communication is limited, memories and meditation become essential. I can’t remember the last time I saw my Aunt. I don’t know how old she was or I was, I don’t recall what was said. But the memory of who my Aunt was and how she was is etched just as strongly into me as that feeling of summer I’ll never lose. And because of that, I can access her now as always just by closing my eyes or smelling citrus (her favourite scent) or recalling a memory of her that makes me laugh. Within a heartbeat, she is here. On the day she passed away, I decided to take a long walk home. As I passed over Chelsea bridge, I caught a view of the sun setting. It turned the sky a beautiful shade of orange and pink - colours that reminded me of my Aunt - and I knew it was her saying goodbye. I didn’t have to go chasing after this sunset, it came to me because I slowed down and opened my heart and mind to think of her. The day after that I looked at the weather forecast for the week. Sun. Everyday. And high 70’s over the weekend. And I thought, well shit Aunt Marlene! That’s too much! She was always spoiling us, especially at Christmas time when, with even more excitement than unwrapping the nativity scene, we would eagerly await the arrival of an abundance of Aunt Marlene gifts in the post. So in the end I don’t have to say goodbye to summer just yet nor do I have to mourn the loss of my Aunt. Summer is still here and I can feel my Aunt around me everywhere I go. And when the sun finally decides to pack it in, I can shift my thoughts towards Christmas time and know that my Aunt will continue to visit me in all the memories associated with that season too. Past, present and future are all here in one. When one season ends another begins, and when one life ends, a new journey for the soul begins. And I truly believe that if we can welcome these cycles and allow things to come and go, we can be at peace - nothing to grasp onto, nothing to fear losing because it’s all within us anyway. Close your eyes. Meditate. Be present. And you’ll find everything and everyone you were missing.