Here near the end of June, I really must admit that it’s summer.
In my mind, I was pushing back those calendar days as if I could hold it off until I felt like everything was ready and feeling 100% like summer.
You see, the return of summer comes with the anticipation of kids curling into a poolside cannonball, fans queuing outside movie theaters in flip-flops and tank tops, and novice gardeners like me staring at the ground for tiny green leaves. It’s the first time down the water slide, the tipping of a dripping glass festooned with a slice of lemon. It’s blazing blue skies and back porch sunsets. It’s the satisfactory thud of the classroom door behind you, even if you haven’t been in school for years.
But summer has arrived, and I realize that though there have been so many words and things on my mind, none of them have made it here. I’ve been writing in the corners of these days, but I have been reluctant to face the story that’s the hardest for me to tell right now—mine.
At the end of April, loss found my family once again. We might have expected to lose my grandfather after almost a year of poor health, but we are never ready to say goodbye to the ones we love. In the early hours of the morning, we stood around my grandfather’s hospice bed, hanging on to the rails and on to his hands. A few hours later, we sat on a bright comforter on the floor of a vet’s office, rubbing the ears of our 12-year-old puppy for the last time. That day, the fissures of all the heartbreak the past few years have wrought cracked open again and that night, I wondered how things could ever feel whole again.
Yet, standing in the rough St. Augustine grass of my grandfather’s yard, I found a lesson I’ve learned before. Last June after we said our last goodbye to my grandmother and returned to her house, the backyard was filled with the most beautiful galaxy of fireflies. I’d seen maybe one little lightning bug before in Kansas, but there might have been hundreds.
I’d never seen any fireflies in Texas, but there they were in the twilight, blinking quietly every night. Their brightness winking in the dark places of the yard reminded me of what is so easy to forget when you’re standing in the shards of what you thought a day would be. God was still with us, that none of what had happened surprised Him, and that even as we felt shattered, He was holding us together.
In the gloaming, I couldn’t miss that our yard was the only one glowing with fireflies. On two separate occasions, different neighbors commented on the fact that we seemed to have a monopoly on them, and I can’t believe for a moment that was coincidence.
Since then, we have been sorting and organizing, trying to take care of my grandfather’s house and my grandmother’s, too, which has not been her home for a year but is still too full of memories to leave quite yet. Somewhere in all of this, May slipped into June. We hopped the state border to Missouri to see the river, the hometown of Mark Twain, the creek where a much smaller me linked hand-cranked ice cream to summer fun, and so many other places where my family has planted memories.
There are days now between me and the dates where the pen lingered too long, blackening and bleeding, but heartache is an injury that takes time to heal. Some days it seems impossible that people are only 60% water when even the smallest things make me brim with tears.
Coming home to find summer already underway and trying to catch up has been an adjustment. The long sunsets and buzzing hummingbirds are here. The celebrations and piles of books by the hammock are here. In all of it, I find myself asking where am I?
The answer is I’m here, too. All of us have come back to summer, and somewhere in the happy colors of a beach blanket, the bright jewels of fresh fruit, the swinging tune of a sunshine anthem, and the laughter of friends I have discovered the quiet element of reprise.
In music, a reprise is a section of music that repeats, a powerful return to the main theme with such a profound sense of glorious and audible homecoming that a shiver goes straight through you. This return is bolstered, enhanced, and nuanced by the other themes that have entered the piece. The familiar is welcomed back with new understanding.
Homecoming is intense, complicated. Amidst the frustration and melancholy of loss, it’s all too easy to give up the familiar or avoid it because we’re afraid it will only reflect what we’re missing. Absence is a hole our expectations fall into. We look through the windows for people we know aren’t home. Our routines make us check to see if a water dish that’s been dry for a month needs filling.
But fireflies are a theme I can’t ignore. No one wants days like the ones when I’ve seen them, yet I wouldn’t trade those winking lights for anything. They’ve made this story, this song of mine beautiful in a way only God can, wonderful in a way only music can express.
With reprise, the song will never be as simple as the first time we heard it, but if we take the time to reflect on what we’ve been hearing in the verses, those strains can become beautiful harmony to the melody.
And this is where I am. In recovery and reprise, I pick myself up from the ground and call the world back to the field, saying here I am, and I am not finished yet.