“No more classes, no more books, no more teacher’s mean ole looks……” a bit of an old song kids chanted upon exiting my school on the last day before summer vacation. Of course teachers were undoubtedly doing happy dances in the staff room as the buses pulled away. There was a glorious sense of freedom and a vision of sunny days stretching way out ahead.
For high school graduates that vision probably never includes the bewildering dilemma of too many choices. What will be next —– Job—College —Armed Services—Marriage (I hope not that early, but…)? It is a confusing time. Suddenly one has to learn about money, check-writing, credit-card debt, meeting people who were raised quite differently, responsibility for getting oneself to classes or the job. It is disorienting to move from light chatter about basketball games and who is dating who for the prom, to one’s life work, usually without home as one’s security blanket. It probably isn’t the approved advice, but for some, it might be good to take a year to decide; a buffer year to process one’s change in circumstances. A year of working, volunteering, travel or taking one or two courses provides time to really look at options.
College graduates often emerge with immense debt while suddenly having to pay for the usual complications of life: rent, utilities, food, clothing and however they choose to spend their free time. Sometimes marriage and children add to the mix. I think college graduates of my era were seldom burdened with the huge debt that exists today, nor was finding a job all that difficult in the 1960s. But even then, there were situations that could trigger financial woes. I remember a couple of times over the years when we had to take some steps to keep our checkbook above water. And sometimes family helped a bit as families are wont to do.
Money is still one of those subjects that people are reluctant to discuss; net worth is considered a very private, hush-hush matter and continues to be associated with self worth. Perhaps it has been true for eons that the more wealth we accumulate the more important we (and the world) assume we are? The more status we’ve achieved?? Suze Orman is a well-known financial advisor who takes the mystique out of money. I like the way she separates the problem from a person’s value and presents workable options for whatever the issues are —- and does it with good sense and candor. Money should not be an estimate of a person’s worth, for everyone has far more value than our rather grubby pieces of legal tender. Money is just a way of keeping track in the economy; easier than trading beads or pelts. Many unforeseen scenarios can create a snafu in our bank balances. There’s a reason they call it filthy lucre. (I hope all the bankers who take money very seriously will forgive my flippancy here. ☺) It takes vigilance, stamina, optimism and keeping an eye on the financial demands of life to survive the system we’ve created over the centuries. As Charles Dickens* said in David Copperfield via the character Micawber: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness! Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery!” Of course we need to be responsible and careful, but sometimes money problems are simply life’s mud pie in the face. When someone gets mired in the mud of chance, we need to extend a helping hand.
As the last child born into my family, I am pretty sure that I missed a lot of the really hard work as well as hard days financially, of farming. By the time I came along, my father had moved from active farming to being a banker, of sorts, with Farm Credit Assn. But even then, family and neighbors helped each other. Many hands were sometimes needed, especially in June. It was a given that when haying season arrived, everyone available was invited to assist. Mostly I drove the tractor, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y while someone with more muscle than I picked up the bales and stacked them onto the wagon. When I was older, I was given the task of shoving the bales off the wagon onto the elevator that carried the hay into the barn loft. That involved using lethal-looking, curved hay hooks, which occasionally got stuck in the bales, nearly pulling me onto the elevator. It was a hot, sweaty job; the chaff stuck to one’s skin and itched. But many contributing hands made it possible to put hay under cover before the next thunder storm. Then, after several of those hot days, someone would go to town to pick up banana splits, ending that haying day with comforting cool deliciousness.
Neighbors helping neighbors for harvest isn’t the only time we need to pitch in. A summer activity, in many communities, is trying to keep children fed. During the school year, breakfast and lunch are served to kids who, for many reasons, do not have adequate food. In summer, school meals are no longer available. The local food pantry distributes food to families twice/month, but this doesn’t fill the daily needs of children. So the pantry and several other groups are busily working together to set up places where kids can come for a filling breakfast, lunch and perhaps some additional activities to fill their day. It would seem as though these good programs should take care of the need, but in reality, they are a drop in the bucket of wide-spread hunger. It is a large drop making a big splash and it does make a difference, but far more intervention is needed. All of us could probably be more aware of the plights of those around us whether it is hunger, PTSD, despair or loneliness. The summer days we would like to think are full of sunshine and play are not so for many hurting people of all ages. I like the T-shirt slogan that says: “In a land where we can be anything —- be kind!”
Even as I write about more awareness I know that everyone must use their energy wisely. We can’t do everything. What we are capable of doing and what we feel called to do are very personal decisions. We each have skills, leanings, and maybe feel intensely about one or two things in which we are involved. We should enjoy and be grateful for each day, but I believe that we have an obligation to do more. We need to do what we can to see that others have similar opportunities. Sharing our wealth, whether it is talents, money, time or simply listening with a sympathetic ear, makes our existence on earth worthwhile – sort of like paying rent for the privilege of life on terra firma. We also need to remember that no one person is given the burden of changing the whole world. JRR Tolkien**, author of The Hobbit and the Rings Trilogy, says, via Gandalf, one of his characters: “……yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set; uprooting evil in the fields that we know so that those who live after have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
Friday, June 21st, is the summer Solstice. We will have more daylight than at any other time of the year. It is the season of many shades of green, from the dark green of spruce trees to the paler green spears of our rather rampant day lilies. Green is generally a hue that rests the eyes and soothes the mind, although someone questioned the slightly electric green on the walls of our enclosed porch. I find it restful, but not everyone would I suppose. Summer begins what we used to consider days of free time and relaxation with picnics, swimming, parades and hours of playing in the sun. (My mind tends to block out picking green beans, weeding, gathering eggs, culling chickens, mowing, etc.). My current June calendar indicates, however, that even in summer there seems to be no time for lolling. I complain, as does everyone around me that “time flies”(except perhaps when wide awake at 2 AM), but even with vigilance, my days are filled with too many things. So I may (even more than usual) neglect some things like dusting in a timely manner, attacking piles of papers or attending that meeting —- so that I can steal minutes to watch the birds, enjoy the flowers and dream a bit. If time is going to fly —- I’m going to fly along with it, not be left behind doing dishes.
For the young, time seems to move more slowly. Bask in it! Notice the small things like the texture of growing grass, cool mud puddles, water flowing through your fingers as you kayak along and flamingo sunsets. And for everyone, of whatever age, be open to those you love — and perhaps some you don’t know all that well. Remember that if time moves rapidly, so will our days. Henri Frederic Amiel*** says, “Life’s short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Oh be swift to love! Make haste to be kind!”
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*-Charles Dickens –English author and social critic. Created some of the most well-known characters in literature. 1812-1870
**- JRR Tolkien – British philologist and author. 1892-1973
***- Henri Frederic Amiel – Swiss philosopher, critic and poet. 1821-1881