Melancholy at Summer’s End

You don’t have to check the calendar to know the days are growing shorter. This coming Tuesday, we’ll observe the autumnal equinox. The sun will be directly above the equator and days and nights will be equal in length. After that, mornings will continue to come later and evenings earlier until we reach the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. On December 21, we slowly start heading back toward spring.

In the part of the world where I live, September is still summer. Heat and humidity are high. Thunderstorms pop up without warning. Zinnias are still gloriously in bloom. Most of us wouldn’t consider giving up shorts and flip-flops just yet. I don’t know anyone who puts her white pedal-pushers away. (In truth, I don’t know anyone who still calls calf-length britches pedal-pushers, though everyone of my generation knows what they are.) We’re still drinking iced tea and cooking pork chops on the grill. My sunscreen and visor rest in their place by my front door so I won’t leave out on a walk without them.

And yet. Though the still-green leaves hang heavy on the trees, I know they’re holding their breaths as they prepare to change colors and fall off. Hummingbirds, stoking up for the flight to South America, swarm in such vast numbers in my back yard that I’ve hung two more feeders just to keep them satisfied. Goldenrod and ironweed grow thick on the roadsides.

We’re witnessing summer’s last hurrah.

And though I know this is the way it’s supposed to be, I can’t help but feel a little melancholy. That’s a word I learned when I was just a wee lass, when my daddy would sing me this verse from “Melancholy Baby,” one of his favorite songs:

Every cloud must have a silver lining

   Wait until the sun shines through

Cuddle up, my dear, while I kiss away each tear

Or else I shall be melancholy, too.

“What’s melancholy?” I asked the first time he sang it. He explained that it’s a feeling of sadness that’s hard to shake off.

Which pretty much sums up September 2020 for me. The melancholy I feel every year as we approach the autumnal equinox is magnified a thousand times over this year. It was a bummer of a spring and summer. I didn’t get to go to the beach. I didn’t get to go to the Smoky Mountains. Or to my cousin’s wedding in Arkansas. Or to a restaurant or to Sunday School. I was supposed to see John Prine in concert in Louisville, which will never happen because he’s dead of Covid. I was supposed to play table tennis in the state Senior Olympics, which were postponed until at least next year.  I was supposed to take a bus trip to Mt. Rushmore.

And to top it all off, my dog died.

Those complaints are ridiculous, I know, in light of the way so many others have suffered. This pandemic has caused pain the likes of which most of us have never witnessed. Now we worry that, with cooler weather driving us indoors, the number of Covid cases will spike. We worry about violence in the streets. We worry that the wildfires in the west will never stop burning. We worry about hurricanes. We worry about the election. Is it safe to vote in person? Is it safe to vote by mail? Will the candidates who might be able to turn this ship around before it hits the iceberg be victorious, or will we continue to thrash around in stormy seas for years to come?

Even for an optimist like me, it’s hard not to feel at least a little melancholy as this big old planet tilts on its axis.

(September 19, 2020)