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On Becoming Prone to Accidents of Joy

I heard the first cicada of summer the other evening as I sat on the porch and watched the sky change hues every few minutes as the day slipped so gently into night. The cicada’s mating call, which our amateur-entomologist daughter informs me is the loudest insect sound on the planet, transports me instantly back to playing “kick the can” at twilight during the summers of my youth. Summer seemed carefree then. That was before mortgages and children—and prior to being thirty years removed from anticipating summer as a heavenly break from the school routine that dominated the other nine months. We couldn’t wait for our school years to be behind us then, but adult life, it turns out, doesn’t include an annual sabbatical from the regularly scheduled program.

As a grown up who is never more than a goofy joke away from knowing that there’s an ageless boy in me, I still begin every summer with more ideas for having fun than any dozen weeks could possibly hold. By the time the cicadas start announcing their reproductive availability, it’s apparent that another summer has sped by and left me wondering, What happened to the summers I remember?

If I let go of my childhood expectations for carefree weeks or months and instead measure summer in moments, I find that the joy I long for in summer is accessible even amidst the preoccupations of adult life. The excitement I felt when I saw the first “Home Grown Sweet Corn” sign gave one glimpse, the crunch of the first bite a second. Walking in the rain for an hour in a bathing suit and bare feet was a trip back to being ten. Floating in a kayak on a lake with a loved one at sunset—suspended above the dark water and outside of time—felt like peace itself permeating my preoccupation. Getting beat by one stroke by our son in a round of golf was as good as anything from summers of yore. Walking in a prairie of native flowers with our daughter who got excited by every bug she spotted was more memorable than a day at a crowded theme park. And the hummingbirds that visit the flowers near our front porch all summer long are stealthy, but their magical, hovering presence shouts: “Summer is here, it’s time to pause and sup the nectar!”

Such moments remind me of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach telling his students that true joy is an accident; it can’t be forced. When a student asked him why, if joy is an accident, he instructed his students to have such disciplined routines of prayer, the Rabbi answered: “To become as accident prone as possible.”

I cannot live my youth nor the summers of my youth again, but I can become more and more prone to the accidents of joy that are there for the supping in every season of the year, in every season of life.

Thanks for pausing long enough to read this. I wish you a few accidental moments of joy in the remaining weeks of summer!

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