It’s the tail end of summer, a liminal time like dusk and dawn when things are neither one nor the other, but for an instant both at once. The air is still and breathless, our brains sluggish and limp; the simplest tasks are beyond us. Headed out the door, we stop a moment on the porch, my son and I, transfixed by butterflies: racing, playing, dancing. Marked by black wings with a creamy edge like silky binding on a blanket, they romp in ones, twos, threes, fours, then back to twos. Soaring together, crossing over, then side by side, under and over: a quadrille at breakneck speed. Their speed is instinctual, a playing out of the wonder of wings. (Do they hold a flicker of memory somewhere in their bodies of their slow, earthbound, wingless lives as caterpillars?)
Butterflies are drawn to our Santa Monica garden by blooming buddleia, rightly called butterfly bush. Our fig tree in the front gracefully flaunts her bounty: Figs ripen in wave after wave, satisfying birds and butterflies as well as people. In back, grapes hang heavy on the vine, already too far gone for jelly-making (the idea itself a throwback to a slower, simpler life in a slower, simpler time).
I long to sit undisturbed in a neverending moment, soaking in these last languid drops of summer, lulled into placid dreaminess in this time of heat and overripe fruit. But in this liminal place, which is neither one thing nor another but both at once—like the edge of a woodland—there comes an ever-so-slight shifting of the currents. The paperwork for school arrives and must be completed. Onerous as it is for the summer mind to grasp the necessity and act, there is change on the horizon.
School will soon begin—and caring for the middle-school psyche is no small matter. It’s like trying to hold a space for those dancing butterflies; like witnessing the launch of a space shuttle: Having worked hard to prepare it for the launch, you hold your breath, watch, and pray that it finds its orbit safely.
A few days later, the winds have turned. A brisk edge, an energy, has surmounted the dance lethargy. At first it’s just a whisper, a hint of liveliness mixed with the heavy slowness. But it gathers force.
School begins. I walk my son into the schoolyard and the first day of seventh grade. Wordlessly I am signaled away. He can take it from here.
As I leave, I see sixth-graders and their parents, new to middle school—the terror emanating from them in palpable waves. Seeing them, I recall: There is nothing here to fear. I can forget my anxieties of the night before, borrowed from my son. All night, I felt the first day of school looming. We shared the anxiety as if it were too much for him to bear alone. Now it is his to carry, and he will.
And now, the energy shift is clear and pure. The summer doldrums linger only in our dragging feet and wistful memories. We must be mindful of the pace and let the change happen gently. We need to anchor ourselves so we won’t be swept away by the force of new beginnings, the stiff—even when warm—winds that carry the stronger energy and expectations of fall. Like the butterflies, we need to move in harmony with instinctual forces, playfully, allowing the energies of the season to support us. ❖