Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Endless Summer

As a kid I dreaded the month of September. The last days of August caused my mind and my body to revolt. I felt depressed, angry and frustrated. Life, as I knew it, was ending, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was unwilling to surrender; yet I was surrounded on every side. My friends, who promised never to leave me, all of a sudden disappeared. I was alone. 

Every June the last bell would ring, singling the end of another school year. Summer had begun. My eyes flung wide open as my heart began to jump inside my chest. I bolted out of class as quickly as I could without looking back. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do, but I knew one thing: I was free. 

For the next two months, nothing but a constant stream of bliss lay before me. There were no teachers telling me what to do, what to think or how to act. There was no alarm clock shouting at me. There was no school bus to catch, no homework to complete and no curfew to obey. Days were bright, and nights were open. I had no responsibilities and no plans, just time to explore, relax and experience life in its naked simplicity. 

This newfound freedom and the ecstatic joy it brought was short lived. The days and weeks passed quickly. The thrill and the excitement I possessed at the beginning of summer was turning quickly into despair. Something had to happen, I thought, and quick. Time was slipping away from me. I still felt incomplete. Summer was my only hope, the one chance I had to live a life without interruption. 

Reflecting on that period in my life now many years later, I understand the mystery of what I was hoping for. My summer vacations were a desperate attempt to experience heaven on earth. The freedom, excitement, and joy of summer sunk deep into my own heart, where I discovered what could be called heaven’s radar: the desire for complete and infinite happiness.

It wasn’t necessarily spending all day at the beach, camping with friends, or road trips that I was looking for, but what I thought those activities contained: endless joy without interruption. Heaven has been defined as “the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.” If that is true, as I believe it is, then it comes as no surprise to me that the beginning of summer felt like a new birth, while the end of summer felt like a slow and painful death. 

St. Paul reminds us that, “our commonwealth is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). In my eagerness for this change to occur I have often ignored an important word in this passage, will. This change St. Paul speaks of is occurring now in this world, but is never complete in this life. 

Returning to school again in September brought me face to face with this reality. Time, freedom, talent and even happiness all had their boundaries in this world. When I did possess them, even if for only a brief moment, they were exposed to constant interruption. The problem wasn’t that summer vacation was too short, but that it took place in a world that “is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). 
Summer, for me, has become a foreshadowing of a future destiny. Though I no longer have those summer vacations of my childhood, they have provided me a glimpse of what heaven will be like: a happiness that is boundless and a summer day that never ends. 

+ Fr. Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR
Monticello, NY
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