It’s September. Already. Again.
But not just any September, not just the September of wistful songs and melancholy poems. Not just that familiar kind of September that makes us speak of waning light and fading flowers and the double-edged thrill of heading back to school.
No. This is September 2020. Only two months until the presidential election. Nine weeks from a vote that could rock the world. To be precise, a vote that will occur a mere 62 days, 11 hours, and 4 minutes from the time I started writing this on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
In other words, Election Day, Nov. 3, will be here as fast as you can say “tempus fugit,” and still, for a lot of people, that’s not fast enough.
“Can we please just fast-forward to Nov. 4?” I’ve heard people say, as if it were not only possible but desirable to leapfrog into the future, an imaginary time when democracy will be safe, Americans will be civil, justice will mean justice for all, and the president of the United States will once again be a man of dignity.
“So glad this August is over,” I’ve heard people lament, in a variation on the theme, as if flipping a page on an old-fashioned calendar will calm the chaos of this pandemic summer.
I’ve heard other variations on that theme too: “Please let 2020 be over” and “This year cannot be over soon enough” and “Wake me up when this nightmare’s done.”
Such comments started before September, but my unscientific survey of social media suggests that September’s arrival has amplified this line of thinking.
“Only 63 more days!” someone posted on Facebook Tuesday, and while I empathized with the impatience, I also thought: Don’t wish your life away. Sixty-three days is a lot of living. What’s the rush?
Think back to 63 days ago. July. Remember? Think of all the life you’ve lived in the two months since, some of it hard, no doubt, but a lot of it fulfilling. Would you have wanted to forfeit all those days and nights just to be spared the hard parts? Most of us would say no.
Of course, there’s another kind of lament heard in this new September, the more familiar kind common to summer lovers in the Northern climates. It’s the lament that rises whenever summer fades. This lament comes from people who want to slow time down. It’s not that they mind September, but they — by they I mean we — mind the message that rides on the September breeze: Warning! Gray skies, bitter winds, slushy sidewalks, cabin fever ahead!
It’s a feeling summed up in Mary Jo Salter’s poem “Absolute September,” which a friend recently introduced me to. It begins:
“How hard it is to take September
straight — not as a harbinger
of something harder.”
In 2020, the “something harder” includes a new dread. What will winter be like in the pandemic, when cabin fever meets the coronavirus? Goodbye to socially distanced outdoor dining and socially distanced picnics in the park. Hello to Zoom Thanksgiving and Zoom Hanukkah and Zoom Christmas carols.
“I just want it to be spring,” I heard someone whimper the other day, “so we have a vaccine and can get on with life.”
We can all relate. But this is life. Today. September 2020. We don’t really want to wish our days away, do we?
It’s the nature of the human mind to push our thoughts into the future even as we gaze toward the past. Sitting in the present — as the great philosophers have told us — is the hardest, most essential thing we’re called upon to do.
Besides, time doesn’t care what we want. It’s going to do its own thing at its own pace. The election will come when it comes. One day the pandemic will be history. Those summer flowers are going to die and next summer there will be new ones.
So we may as well accept the rhythm and settle into these September days, and into the October days that follow. They will be beautiful, and odds are we’ll look back and think they passed too fast.