It’s hard to believe, but summer is almost over.
Okay, that’s a little inaccurate.
Technically, summer won’t end until September 22nd, when fall will usher itself onto the calendar. But functionally, most school districts across the nation gear back up in August, and the lazy summer afternoons of kids declaring delicious boredom and the schedules that have been able to take a breath come to an end. Whether we have kids in school or not, for most of the country, that back-to-school wave signals a shift to getting back into the routine, back to business as usual, back to the tasks at hand. We’ll be putting up with summer heat for the next few weeks, but all the other trappings of the fall season will soon be upon us.
I’ve been one to kick off any new season with enthusiasm and pizazz, grabbing whatever seasonal decor items to scatter across the fireplace mantle and busting out a new wreath for the front door, all to signal an upcoming seasonal holiday. And when it comes to the back-to-school season, it’s easy to make an event of upgrading all kinds of school and office essentials, taking advantage of the coming season. Back to school, whether you’ve got students living in your house or not, is something of a start of the new year. Fresh notebooks and files, replenishing favorite pens, upping your desk game, it all makes sense in this time. I’m ready with the new. But what I haven’t done a great job on is finishing out the current season well. I’m so busy looking ahead that I can miss wrapping up right where I’m at.
There’s a great quote by Dante that goes like this: “”There we both sat and rested for a while, facing the rising sun the way we’d climbed, for looking back can sometimes help you on.” This summer has held great memories and great lessons. It’s been a time for reunions with people we didn’t get to see during the height of the pandemic. It’s been a time when many Americans are winding up their work-from-home experiences and others are discovering that remote work will be their new normal. For a lot of us, this summer has given us a bit of a breather from the stressful unknowns of last year, even as we keep an eye on the continuing march of Covid. There is tremendous value in taking a pause to reflect on all these things, marking the days of this summer as important.
So how do we do that? How do we close out this summer of 2021 in a way that is reflective, energizing, and helpful for the coming autumn? How do we make these last few days of summer intentional?
- Print the pictures. I know, I know. I do it too. I let pictures sit on the camera roll of my phone, their only presence in 2 ½ by 5 inch digital form. But pick a few shots from this summer. The average day. The afternoon eating popsicles. The wander around the neighborhood. And get those pictures printed to commemorate the summer you’ve had. It’s the small things, the little moments, that add up to the stories of our lives. Don’t let yours sit unregarded in the digital cloud.
- Plan an End of Summer (not a Back to School) bash. Invite the neighbors, have your kids pull in their friends. Make it simple, with everyone bringing a few items to share on the grill. Run the sprinklers for the kids (and adults) to run through. Slather on the bug spray. Enjoy a low-pressure gathering that lets you soak in the scent of citronella and grilled hot dogs while the sun sets. Those kinds of memories will last long into the coming shorter days and winter storm warnings.
- Ease into the upcoming new schedule. Whether you’re returning to the office for the first time in eighteen months or your kids are going full-time back into the classroom, be gentle with getting back on schedule. Start now to get an earlier bedtime routine. Back up when you call for lights out by ten minutes each night over the course of two weeks. Begin the process of getting up and ready in a certain time window. The intentionality you put into these waning weeks of summer can help make the transition to work and school less jarring when the calendar flips.
- Get in one last ‘spontaneous’ summer adventure. It can be a surprise day trip to the zoo one city over. It can be a ‘day-cation’ in your town, with a day pass to the swimming pool area of a nice hotel. It can be a quick two-day weekender somewhere close. But make it something that the family hasn’t expected and wasn’t on the docket as part of vacation. It can be just the boost and closure needed before heading into the next season.
- Take a summer inventory. Ask your partner, ask your kids about their favorite experiences during 2021. What did they learn? What did they enjoy most? What did they wish they had gotten to do that can become part of the goal for the summer of 2022? And don’t just ask the questions; write down the answers. It’s a great way to capture the atmosphere of the last three months.
- Whatever this summer has brought to you, don’t hang on too tightly. If you’ve had the best summer ever and you’re mourning the approach of the fall, enjoy these waning days and then embrace what’s coming. If this summer has been exceptionally hard, don’t allow it to harshly color the days of autumn. “Change with the seasons of life. Don’t try to stretch a season into a lifetime.” – Unknown
- Pray a prayer of gratitude for what this summer has meant. It’s all too easy to start praying ‘forward,’ if you will. We often start asking God for blessings in the coming days, instead of thanking Him for the blessings in the current ones. Noticing where He’s been working and thanking Him for that is an important part of being intentional with our summer days. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” writes James, the brother of Jesus, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17).
Whether you love summer as your favorite time of year or you’re ready to move on to the last months of 2021, pay attention to these last days of summer, before the schedule gets overly packed again with fall activities and homework becomes the new evening routine. Don’t let these last days get away from you without marking the time. After all, writes American author Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”