Being both a high school teacher and a parent of a school-aged child (who is just now finishing sixth grade), I have always thought of “summer” as equivalent to the two-month summer holiday in July and August. But here’s the strange thing that, I am embarassed to say, never really occured to me before: summer solstice is June 21. With the exception of the polar regions, summer solstice is the single day with most hours of daylight; after summer solstice, the number of hours of daylight begin to decline until winter solstice in December–the darkest day of the year.
So far I’m merely stating the obvious. But I realized something intriguing about all this. You see, once my summer holidays begin at the end of June the solstice has already passed, and so every day of summer holidays is a day of less sunlight, not more. Summer holidays don’t build up to the solstice; they begin once it has already ended. And in this sense I think summer holidays are a perfect metaphor for our lives. Once they begin, they have already begun to decline. From the very moment a child is born it is already moving inexoriably to its end.
Strangest of all is that their very brevity makes our lives even more beautiful. The fact that every day of summer there is less sunlight than the day before makes each one of those days and each hour of that sunlight ever more precious.
Everyone has probably heard the first stanza of Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” in which the speaker implores us to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” But I like the second stanza better, and I think from now on it will be my official stanza for summer holidays:
“The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun
the higher he’s a-getting,
the sooner will his race be won,
and nearer he’s to setting.”