In August, the heads of the hydrangeas fade, and the rain falls hard ahead of funerals, and there is the hint of yellow in churchyard mums.
I am aware of the vague splashing of fenced-off pools and the distant persistence of lawn mowers, but it’s the grasshoppers and the cicadas, the frogs and the birds that own, I think, the August airwaves.
One dog starts barking. Unanswered, he barks again.
I find just three lonely tarts on a long stainless steel shelf at a farmers’ market stall and a sign announcing a vacation. Later, walking the neighborhood streets, I am again struck by the absence of others, the weeds in gardens, the construction that has stopped, the windows closed to breezes.
That one dog, barking.
Soon there will be no more proof of hydrangea blue, and far more yellow in the mums. The absent will return, the windows will open, the streets will fill, the schools will start, the phones will ring at what will feel like a different and much-too-insistent pitch, and the emails will, wave upon wave, come.
Soon there will be requests, requirements, schedules, but right now it is still August — that time in the year that teaches me to pause and to wait, to assert some independence over my own bad habits, to discipline my natural impatience, to steady myself in the face of the news, to determine, in fact, who I must be to counter all that concerns and frightens me.
To grow stronger. Wiser. More sure. To answer, again, the question: What do I believe in, and what will I do?
I lie awake at night listening to the rain. I do not hurry from the bed.
I buy the last strawberry-kiwi tart off that shiny market shelf and sit beside my husband as we drive it north to friends.
I prepare a proper Greek salad (the fresh dill, the fresh peppers, the fresh feta, the onions, the capers, the cucumbers, the fat and ripe and red tomatoes) and present it to my husband as if it were a royal dish and as if we were a royal couple, because every day we are still here — alive, together — is a crown event.
I lie on a couch beneath a thin quilt and read books I choose — Edwidge Danticat (The Art of Death), Sara Novic (Girl at War), Cece Bell (El Deafo), Camille T. Dungy (Guidebook to Relative Strangers), Paul Horgan (Encounters With Stravinsky). I make lazy notes about syllabi and reading lists, student work and faculty promises, the things I want to teach and the things that I must (yet) teach myself. I read and I forget what time it is, and later that day — that evening, really, after dinner is, again, Greek salad — my husband and I sit, unsettled, alarmed, disbelieving before the news, then finally click into the latest Netflix series, and we watch, deep into the dark.
August is pause. August is wait. August is the month of parentheses, when the days are hot or cool, dry or wet, upside down and differently measured. A younger version of myself would have minded all the wait. She would have prowled about her little house, her neighborhood streets, her quiet farmers’ market, wondering where everybody was.
She would have stood by the phone, hoping for answers, responses, explanations for the mess the world is too often in, yeses to the projects she’s stirred up — the books that now sit, waiting, on editors’ desks, the dreams she has dared to proffer for herself. She would have checked the many machines for signs, for proof that she has been remembered, is wanted, is someone safe inside a world that — despite all that does seem broken, all that terrifies, all that is not right and that must be countered — she still emphatically loves.
But the me I have become is at work on finding peace with August. With the lonesome streets and their shifting colors. With the songs I hear inside the silence. With the news I can’t change, though I am desperate to change it. With the answers no one has given me yet, because maybe there aren’t answers yet. Maybe there never will, finally, be answers.
Maybe August itself teaches us how to live the uncertainties of August.
Beth Kephart is the author of 22 books, most recently the illustrated memoir workbook “Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.” She can be reached at junctureworkshops.com.