Don’t look now, but Labor Day is upon us. Yes, that dreaded end-of-summer holiday arrives on Monday next, bringing with it the return to our normal existences. (And, by the way, didn’t there used to be a rule that Labor Day couldn’t be on September 1? I thought it was always the first Monday, unless that Monday was the first. Maybe that was just what I wanted the rule to be.)
I used to hate the approach of this single holiday for the reason most kids still hate it: school starts shortly thereafter. In my case, it was always the following Wednesday. The school system in my town at least gave us the Tuesday following to get back from our vacations. And that’s exactly what my family used to do. We’d pack up from our summer beach house on the Jersey shore on Tuesday afternoon and make the short drive back to our suburban home (on Long Island).
It wasn’t that I was the kind of kid who hated everything about school. I actually liked a lot of what going to school entailed. I liked reuniting with my friends, and, for the most part, I liked learning. But I hated doing homework, or at least I was generally averse to it, being much more inclined to play and watch TV and talk on the phone and otherwise do what most kids like to do when they aren’t in a regimented atmosphere.
But it was just the thought of the end of the non-regimented atmosphere summer provided that I dreaded, and as a result the approach of Labor Day was cause for tremendous anxiety and distress. It used to start for me right around August 1, which is when (almost without fail) those damnable “back-to-school” ads would begin. I used to hate those ads. How dare they talk about going back to school when we still had a whole month to go, maybe even five weeks if we were lucky and Labor Day fell on the sixth or seventh (or eighth?) that particular year.
Summer vacations were the best of times. Too bad they only lasted about twenty minutes. Of course, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the expression, “time flies when you’re having a good time” is another one of those truisms that are only partially true. It could easily be shortened to, “time flies,” because that is a much more accurate statement of reality.
In actuality, of course, time is a constant; at least non-Einstein time is. It is just about as certain as death and taxes that each minute will be comprised of sixty seconds and each hour of sixty minutes. And even though modern society has found ways to expand the use of time (e.g., multi-tasking and 24/7), it still is unshakeable that each year passes with the same amount of rapidity.
I’ve adopted a simple response when someone in idle chit-chat says something like, “Boy, that year sure went fast.” “Yes,” I’ll reply, “but of course that’s how time is.” That observation rarely gets a nod, since, I assume, most people aren’t willing to acknowledge that aspect of our existence, to wit: before we know it, it (whatever the “it” happens to be) will be over.
I think you have to have reached a certain age (and maybe have a certain generally depressive view of life) to face that fact fully. I know that in my youth I never even considered how oppressive the passage of time is. I was twenty-one, for example, when Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” was released. I marveled at the film, as I still do, but I also thought when I first saw it in 1967 that the actual year 2001 would never really get here. Oh, I knew on some intellectual level that it would, but I just couldn’t imagine that it would happen in any kind of conceivable length of time I could imagine.
I used to have the same feelings about summer vacations when they started, usually around the twentieth of June. I’d leave school on that last day and think I had eons of time to do whatever I wanted to do—no middle of the night alarm clocks waking me up to get ready for school, no horrible term papers to write on subjects I didn’t care about, no stupid tests about things I wasn’t interested in. Just fun in whatever form I wanted it to take.
And I’d feel that way until those horrible “back-to-school” ads hit the airwaves on August first. And then, from that point on, I’d feel the increasing dread that the approach of Labor Day caused. And it certainly didn’t help that the days kept getting shorter, by which I mean the sun kept setting earlier each day. That was another thing that became noticeable right around August 1: no longer could you play ball until bedtime. Instead, you had to stop because you couldn’t see the ball anymore.
In my current mode of existence, these traumas largely escape me. It’s one of the virtues of being an older adult, I suppose. You no longer look on the passing of a summer as the end of everything that makes life worth living. Instead, it’s just another season that went by in the blink of an eye.
I know that nothing in what I’ve said constitutes wisdom. Coming to grips with reality is just what happens if you live long enough. In my youth, I thought I would never get old and would always have the strength and energy to do whatever I wanted to do. It was a curse, of course, to be so deceived, for all too often I put off what I could have and should have been doing, assuming that I could get to it another time.
Now, in the older-adult stage of life that I’m in, I understand that lost opportunities, wasted minutes, hours, days, are never recoverable. They just vanish to give way to the rest of your life.
So, here’s to another Labor Day. And don’t worry kids: another summer vacation is right around the corner.