Stillness comes in various forms. Today, the lake has no movement as I sit looking on from the old screened porch. There is not a leaf rustling, not so much as a momentary breeze, and the sticky high humidity is hovering against the distant shore, obscuring the view, making the deep greens look more like a deep turquoise.
A pinkish glow is reflecting into the water from the sky, and the gentle slam of a screen door and the voices of a couple chatting over coffee are as clear to me as if I were sitting at the same table. The lake is a giant amplifier, which is why we teach our kids to always be careful about what they say when they’re on a boat or sitting on the porch.
This morning, as I have my coffee, a huge bowl of ripe, deep red strawberries picked up at yesterday’s farmers market are about the most flavorful I’ve had. Store-bought berries don’t cut it, so I binge in summertime.
When I was a child growing up on Lake Wawasee in Indiana, we used to take our pontoon boat onto the lake, and it seemed as if we were right under the exploding fireworks in the sky above us. I never thought I’d experience that feeling again, but last night a local neighbor treated us to a display every bit as special as any I can remember. We were watching from the boat, along with our neighbors, who would honk their boats’ horns for applause. The booms would roll across the lake, bounce off nearby mountains, and create an echo effect much like that I remember as a child. I’m feeling pretty blessed.
How Many Summers Left?
Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conferences, used to talk about “How many summers do you have left?” with emphasis on making the best of these special seasons. Now, with COVID fears and seeing the disease impact families we know, it makes me realize just how special this time is, and how we need to embrace our time with those we love even more. The stakes are higher than ever. There is nothing like a pandemic to help us discover our true priorities.
Clarity of Mission
For me, these moments on the lake in this 140-year-old camp, and the time with family and friends, is my priority, because it’s a tool to draw us closer, provide us with peace from the freshness of the air, the scent of the pines, and the glow of light along the trees against the distant purple mountains. It was a lifelong goal to accomplish, and now my desire is to help my family keep it for generations to come. Not an easy task. If it were not for bitter winters with no heat and a boat-only-access home on a lake that freezes, we would want to be here all the time. Yet I think half the magic comes from the winter months, when we can’t wait for the summer.
Contrast is what summer is all about. We look forward to it and give it special planning because we can do more things in the summer, when we don’t have busy school or work schedules. We look forward to long, warm sunny days that contrast short and frigid winter days. If we had summer all the time, we would not cherish it.
What Matters Most
The pandemic has also provided contrast. Both clarity on what’s important, and a chance to experience family and being home on an entirely new level. For some, the contrast of noisy kid-filled homes gives a new fresh appreciation to the drag of getting up to go to an office, where concentration is so much easier. For others, it’s the stark realization that commuting is for the birds, and life is too short to spend two hours a day on a freeway.
Contrast is what Chinese philosophers were talking about with yin and yang and the I Ching. And in the Bible, there is light vs. darkness, heaven vs. earth. Good isn’t recognized without evil, comfort without discomfort. It’s contrast that makes us appreciate things, which is why success is sweeter having experienced failure. Money is better when you’ve been poor. Success is better if you’ve had to struggle.
Pray for Pain
Though my natural instinct is to want to protect my kids, I also know that if everything is handed to them, there will be no appreciation for what they have. My prayer is that they experience pain, difficulty, and struggle, but that they live through it so they can appreciate the good when it comes. It’s hard to make a teenager understand that concept.
I’ve watched when people have things handed to them without effort, and it’s sad when that contrast is missing. Appreciation is sweeter with contrast.
Though we don’t want struggle, embrace it. Everything will be sweeter.
Because we’ve been in lockdown, getting out is sweeter than ever. To the extent you can, make this the best summer ever, as though it’s your last. Live it like you’ll be in lockdown next summer.
Each day is a gift, and for the first time ever — except for the few alive who experienced the Great Depression — we’re being served this time to understand that our perfect lives were more of a gift than we realized.
Embrace it. Pray for the best, but make the best of what we have.
PS: I’m embracing a painful week. My income is mostly tied to an event we do every year called the Plein Air Convention. We needed to cancel it this week. It was the right thing to do. And, in spite of the pain, I can find so much good to come from it, including the chance to innovate and create the world’s first fully virtual art conference, which is slated for July 15-18. It could change everything because people from all over the world will be interacting as one, for the first time in history. It may change the plein air world entirely. Wish me luck. And if you think this idea of painting might be of interest, take a risk. It will be worth it. www.pleinairlive.com.