Summer Solstice arrives ((in the Central Time zone) at 9:57 AM. It’s sunny, 73 now with an expected high of 92. The air quality is “iffy” and I have already taken one antihistamine. The windows are open, the pigeons (who have recently moved into the neighborhood) are cooing their greeting to the day. Cat Franklin is laying directly in front of the screen, while I use the keyboard and mouse at a distance on either side of his own contented purring. Inconvenient, yes, but he is old and wanting to be stroked. Don’t we all?
I have been thinking about rapture. Both senses of the word, though one usually has “the” in front of it to distinguish it from the other meaning.
“A feeling of intense pleasure or joy.” is the older meaning and apt for the day, the arrival of summer. Forget for a moment the travails of climate collapse - fires, flood, more frequent and larger hurricanes, drought, and the ubiquitous sweltering heat of city living – and celebrate the green bloom of June. Remember the joy of planting the garden, walking the wooded path or the shoreline, sitting on the porch sipping something cool or turning something on the grill. Remember the joy of walking city streets just after sunrise as delivery men and the garbage haulers navigate alleys. There is a particular kind of anticipation for the opening of doors, the arranging of fruit, the secretaries and salesgirls in their summer dresses on the way to work. In the long twilight evening, sitting with friends at sidewalk tables or the smell of pot and insect repellant as you settle in for the concert in the park. Baseball, especially minor league games which seem more relaxed than the big stadium. big salary, expensive beer rivalries. There are a thousand summer pleasures to be had and savored.
Later 4th of July parades and fireworks. The jostling crowds at the state fair, a world of wonders unto itself. Animal barns, food on a stick, the ironic politics of seed crop art or the very dairy of butter sculptures. The beach with kids playing in the sand, swimming pools with their chlorine blue water, or the sweat of strain as you paddle a canoe with or against the current. A kind of summer rapture perhaps better in anticipation or memory than in fact.
I have also been thinking about the other meaning, The one with “the” in front of it. I do not think of it in the Evangelical sense of a mass of believers being taken up noticeably, all at once. Rather, I am convinced that the rapture is already in progress as so many of those we love and those we know are dying, passing through the veil, abandoning the chaos of our culture.
We don’t think of it as “the” event because it happens one at a time but the pace of departure has quickened since the Pandemic. As the end of the human in the world comes closer (and believe me, if you are perceptive and honest about the cumulative effect of our greed and bad decisions, it is hard not to see that end on the horizon) it appears that many are being called to something better, different or simply abandoning the struggle. In the face of failing to act amid ever more out of balance environmental extremes, disjointed conspiracy theories as a substitute for reason, dystopian authoritarianism and the cancer of late-stage capitalism, departure may be warranted.
Perhaps that is too negative but while I celebrate the rapture of the small and ordinary, those pleasures are had with the shadow of denial and a kind of emotional paralysis just beneath the surface. The result is both a personal grief of the loss of kith and kin, of friends and loved ones and another cumulative sense that, as the old joke went, the end is near. It is not so funny anymore.
What can we do?
My friend Gregory, who I lived and worked with long years ago and is the focus of many stories, shucked off his mortal coil last October. He often said that he lived “in the present with an attitude of gratitude” and I recognize the truth of that. In spite of the shadow, or perhaps, because of it, living in the present, living as compassionately and well as we can in the here and now is the mechanism for making our peace with grief. We all will be “taken” to whatever is next at some point.
For myself, that living in the present means telling stories of the small and ordinary that make us human. Finding, crafting, sharing meaning both as celebration and caution. Light and shadow, exertion and rest, love and loss as woven into being here now. For today, that now is 16.9 hours of sunlight.
For now, I mourn those many departed and regret not having had a chance to have one more conversation, one more meal, one more laugh with them. Right now, that moment has passed but who knows, maybe we will meet in the hereafter or in a dream. The departed have come in dreams to offer advice or say that I should not worry, it’s all good and I welcome the prospect of that.
I say to those of you still here, let us live with as much joy and compassion as we can have until we die. I wish you well. Be well.