It happens. It is usually that first really hot day in July, but it has to be midweek. The weekend just won’t do.
I drive past a field, and I spot the angel’s lace bordering an endless sea of lavender clover still holding its color.
It’s then that I can hear Billie Holiday singing just to me, as if her voice is coming out of an old stand-up box radio in somebody’s living room.
“Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.” And I’m overwhelmed by the need to do nothing.
After considered conversation, a couple of us came to the conclusion that the one real glimpse of heaven that we get on earth takes place on a summer day after fourth grade.
I remember it as clear as yesterday’s lunch. I’m in a field sitting cross-legged across from my buddy, Mark. We’ve ambled up to a little spot we call the Abbey, where a big house once stood, but it had crumbled into nothing.
The sky was blue, and we had no promises to keep. No homework, no school bells, no teachers, no tests, no spelling, no arithmetic, no reading, no history. That childhood litany was weeks in the past and months into the future, which to kids just out of fourth grade, it meant that it no longer existed.
Somebody had to say it. Mark beat me to it. “There’s nuttin’ to do.” He didn’t say it as a whine. He didn’t say it as a complaint. He said it as an observation, like a person might remark on the weather or mention the make of a car as it drives by.
“Yeah, there’s nuttin’ to do,” I answered.
Then we leaned back in the grass and looked up at the sky. We figured that we would figure out something to do later.
I don’t remember what we ended up doing. But I remember that snippet of a 50-year-old conversation between two boys.
I think we spend most of our adult lives looking for that moment again — when “nuttin’ to do” was a moment of actual grace. We seem to recollect it from a summer’s day, and can feel the sun’s warmth on our shoulders from decades ago.
If we could have one wish in life, one gift that we could hold to in a world gone mad with noise and a technology that owns us, a lot of us would ask for serenity. Serenity is the gift of peaceful acceptance, and the wisdom to do nothing when nothing is called for.
Society seems to flop around from one diversion to the next, as if the greatest fear is to live a moment in the moment. As John Lennon warned us, while we are making plans — and doing things — life is happening.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings always begin and end with the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the path to peace;
Taking, as he did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that he will make all things right
If I surrender to his will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with him
Forever in the next.”
Serenity holds out that simple hope of reasonable happiness in this life, with the expectation of supreme happiness in the next. And the wisdom to know the difference.
Enjoy these summer days. Take a brain-break, a brain fast if you will. And listen for Billie singing you the gospel truth.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.