Earlier this year, before that afternoon when (too little too late) the government told us to stay home, we had a tree cut down. It was a thirty-year oak tree, and the trunk was large enough for two adults to wrap their arms around it, robust growth the arborist said was due to the taproot growing so close to our pond.
His crew was there to cut the tree because many of the other roots had grown beneath our house, pressing the foundation up and cracking the concrete, jarring the walls and windows with the slowest of earthquakes.
“The root system underground is as broad as the branches you see overhead,” he said. I looked up — the branches covered over a third of our yard and the entire back half of our house. Root removal comes before repairing the foundation, which meant the mighty, much-loved tree had to come down. Then, another crew would place pins to hold our house level once more, followed by another crew to repair the broken walls and windows, followed by me, who could then paint and redecorate well enough to put the whole thing behind us.
“You can have it all over within a few weeks,” they said.
That day was in January, before the pandemic, and today I wrote September 26 in my journal. The only part that’s done is the tree. The storage pod holding everything from that part of the house still sits in the driveway. The insurance sloths deliberated in denying our claim. The contractor kept busy with other jobs. The room and our home lie in wait.
Today, when I wrote “September 26,” I noticed it felt like a countdown. This month, I’ve felt this every morning. Why do I feel the dates progressing towards something? Why does time feel like it’s marking a pregnancy of something about to be?
Wasn’t it just March? Just June? We, the world, and our family both seem caught in an odd holding pattern. This stagnant gestation feels heavy, and I want to set it down without understanding exactly what “it” even is.
As I stretch and pray on the lawn in my backyard, I’m as aware of the sunrise as I am the gaping, unfilled wound left by the arborist’s amputation. The hole sits uncovered so that the engineers can inspect it. The morning is humid and lukewarm, dry enough without rain to be wilted, wet enough to make me sweat from the exertion of deep breathing. The summer is exhausted as much as it is exhausting, like a crying child who stubbornly refuses to surrender and go to bed. This is the part where we wonder, “Oh my god, when will this end?”
And our deep craving is only because fall, like sleep, is relieving and refreshing. We’ve had our own long, exhausting day, and we’re over being the responsible, parental one. We need a minute, a drink, a margin. We’re ready for time to fall. We want to wake up tomorrow to cool breezes, or at least a cooler spot on our pillow.
Like I’m sure so many of my friends, I’m ready for the next part: the turning of the page that leads to the next chapter. Which is not something we’re in control of — be it weather, the election, the virus, or even the entrance into a new and brighter day. We’re just weary parents trying to get our sleepy summer darling put to bed with a sense of comfort, normalcy, and love and it doesn’t seem to be working.
Right now, pressing towards rest feels hard and somewhat in vain — to that feeling of a countdown, it feels like something is about to go wrong. This is a feeling I try to ignore. After all, if you know it’s your last night with a relentlessly screaming and exhausted child, you only want the day to end, not their existence. I don’t know what’s at the end of this countdown. I’m afraid to wish for it to hurry and come.
Is that how people settle for less than the best? Less than the big surprise blessing? The plot twist on the next page? What if the other side of this is absolutely wonderful, but our anxiety over it makes us settle for the status quo?
Tired people become worn to risk. Their lives are threadbare and overly ironed by the heat, and they just want to keep it together, like a pair of ragged old pants, the only pair they’ve got. Tired people settle, content to lay their head down on a sweaty pillow of sameness, finding comfort in the agony they know.
Only the real dreamers and believers still have the stamina left to take a risk. And that says more about their nature than of the risk itself. Oh, when did it become a risk to have a change of seasons? When did “keep on keeping on” become heroic? When did our civic duty to vote become salvation? When will the crying child of summer close her eyes so this day can finally end?