Lydia Millet’s tender, devastating, prescient new book, A Children’s Bible, opens with a sentence that captures many folks’ feelings about our world today through the lens of a few months ago.
“Once we lived in a summer country.”
Millet goes on to describe in the first few pages of her novel the sublime experience of a shared summer house near the ocean and the playful and heartbreaking ways in which adolescents begin to push away from their parents in order to form their own tribes. I won’t think further into the book than these first pages because they sum up the moment I am thinking about as we head into summer. I also don’t want to give away the delicious surprises the novel has in store. Please read it.
It is easy for me to nostalgize the past. Whether I lived it or heard about it from generations before me, there is a common refrain of an easier time, a simpler life, a world without so much conflict, a shared humanity, and a thrust toward the common good. A quick flip through a history book debunks this imaginary but it will always be easier to fabricate a history than to grapple with the difficult decisions made in our lifetimes and the ones before.
A passing glance at the news recently will only confirm the tenuous idea of our summer country. Our divides seem to be chasms with unimaginable depths.
Yes, our summer country may have never really existed — but what if we could bring it about this year?
What if the summer that lies ahead of us, full of uncertainties and physical distancing, could become a capricious celebration of being alive? What if we could create a summer house all our own that is a bastion against the fear and divisiveness around us as a way of celebrating and playing with our children? What if, for a few moments this summer, we could just escape to a novel world because it will help us to imagine the world we actually want to live in?
I will be the first to admit that these past few months have been difficult. They have been troubling and there is no doubt that the restlessness they have produced is being directly absorbed by the children we hold so dear. What better reason is there then to teach our children that hope is an excellent way to overcome fear?
In the months ahead, I hope we all can find ways to create a summer house for ourselves and those we love so much.
Why not try literally creating a new way of living for a few days by camping? Campgrounds in Colorado are open. Even better, if you have a backyard, why not start there?
Or, create a fantastical world of paper dolls and creatures with your children. If you can dream it and even halfway sketch it (tracing is an option, too!), you can play in it with your little ones.
If creating a whole universe isn’t on the menu, why not dive into a magical one set-up by a master? J.K. Rowling is releasing her new story The Ickabog in installments this summer. Try spending time in a fort of pillows or a tent of sheets with a flashlight diving into this new fantasy.
No matter what direction you go, I hope that this summer, we all will find ways to be joyful with children. I hope that we all will show them what hope and resilience and play look like — not as sometimes feelings but as ways of being alive no matter what is happening just outside our walls.
You will be doing them a great service — modeling an incredible life — and at the same time, you’ll be bringing a little bit of hope into your own reality as well. You’ll be imagining what a summer house can look like this year and laying the foundation for all the summer houses you’ll build throughout your lifetime together.
Today we live in a summer country.