Owen barks, one short squeak like a rusty screen door. As I walk through the kitchen to let him out, I notice the difference. The morning light has become, overnight, duller. Weaker. Grayer. It slants at a distinctly different angle, throwing shadows that make long stripes across the table.
Having ignored all the signs of summer moving toward an end – the change of frothy pink cotton blossoms into dense white bolls, the crunch of the first fallen sycamore leaves beneath my feet in the backyard, the burst of magenta ball bearings from the stems of the beautyberry bush – , this one catches me off-guard. I sigh a petulant sigh.
It is not that I don’t appreciate the ability to walk outside without my sunglasses fogging up. It is not that I don’t like boots and blue jeans. It is not that I can’t get excited about football. I do and I can. But for a long time, the end of summer has been for me, more than anything else, the harbinger of winter. I start feeling the cold long before it gets here, drawing my shoulders up to my ears the minute the wind picks up, shivering involuntarily at the first long-range forecast.
I am not proud.
Normally I am the one admonishing others to pay attention, to be alert, to notice the moment. And here I am, once a year, losing sight of what is in dread of what is to come.
I am, as I said, not proud.
There are, according to the best statistics, over a quarter million people in Georgia alone who are visually impaired. For at least some of them, glasses or contact lenses or the best Lasik surgeon in the world wouldn’t do any good. They are completely, irreversibly blind.
That statistic frightens me. And not just because my nearsightedness can sometimes make it difficult to read road signs or the credits on a movie screen. It frightens me because I know without the help of any statistician that there are a great many more people who are equally, if differently, blind. People who can’t see the wealth in which they stand, the beauty in which they walk, the incredible grace in which they live and move and have their being. People who are so madly working for an indeterminate future that they are immune to the poignancy of today.
I don’t want to be a part of that statistic, not even in the single instance of the apprehension of winter. I want to be the statistic that has 20/20 vision, that sees every leaf, every smile, every shade of every color right now exactly as it is and, in seeing it, gasps at the wonder, marvels at the magic, weeps at the preciousness of the singularity.
Toward that end, I am not unaware that, like Dorothy with her ruby slippers, I have within myself the power to make that happen. Maybe not by clicking my heels together, but by being very still and repeating over and over again to myself what I know to be true.
I pause. Briefly. Look again at the light thrown onto the table through the window blinds. It isn’t dull; it is soft. It is not weak; it is soothing. It is not gray; it is silver – rippling and shimmering like the surface of a lake in autumn.
Winter will come. It will be cold. I will shiver and watch my breath form miniature clouds. I will stare at the ice lace on the windows and make up a name for the pattern. I will look at all the empty branches and imagine them as letters in another language. I will make a sincere effort not to complain.
For now, for today, I will watch the last summer light and see, with clear vision, only what is, not what will be. Boiled peanuts, goldenrod, and combines rolling over fields with the precision of a marching band. Late tomatoes, early asters, and battalions of school buses filled with children smelling of sweat and ketchup and glue. Hot pink sunsets, bruise-colored muscadines, and the horizon-wide view of summer in full.