The Ripeness of August


It was the beginning of the malaise of August.  I felt restless, over ripe.  I do every year at this time.  This was summer’s version of  February’s cabin fever.  Bored but with a sense of urgency.  Restless, I went for a midnight walk.  But at 10:30. 

 

Weather. Suffering heat, suffering cold.  This year I recognized the 6 month turn from the coldest days of winter in the last days of January and the hottest days in the waning days of July.  This year I matched the annual snowstorm following Thanksgiving weekend to the summer hailstorms of May.  The hottest days of the year in the midwest were separated by 6 months from the coldest days.    And August 2nd was a lot like February 2nd.  The Ground Hog Day of summer.  It was six weeks until Autumn.  And like the movie “Ground Hog Day,” a sense had set in of repetition.  Sameness. 

 

Suffering. Alexander Solzhenitsyn had died yesterday.  He wrote so much on suffering I never could finish his books.  I owned one, Lenin in Zurich.  I recall the David Remnick piece about how Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s routine on writing in his days in Vermont.  He started writing every morning at 6 am.  And he never stopped until something like 8 pm.  His heart was on fire about the suffering.  Mostly the world no longer wished to hear.  

The trend seemed to be movement away from those who suffered in the world.  The New York Times had quoted a 17-year-old college student from Moscow, who could not name any of his books.  She had not read him in her school curriculum.  A 26-year-old advertising copywriter said he was quite familiar with Mr. Solzhenitsyn but doubted that others in his generation were. It was said that young people considered figures like Mr. Solzhenitsyn to be artifacts, and that Russian society in general is no longer interested in the struggles of their parents and grandparents or “in towering cultural figures.”

 “The problem is that now, it’s all about consumption – this spirit that has engulfed everybody,” Mr. Zimin said. “People prefer to consume everything, the simplest things, and the faster, the better. Books are something that force you to think, reading books requires some effort. But they prefer entertainment.”

In Russia, Solzhenitsyn’s death reflected the general malaise of the modern world.  This time of August was about dealing with loss.  The days were getting shorter.  No matter how old, everyone felt a sense of sadness over the loss of sunlight.  And change was hard to deal with.  Ripeness was all about hunger and thirst and the human condition.  The seasons were about the food we ate.  And we were a lot like the food we ate.  Bitter. Sweet.   

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