July 24, 2013
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”
Every year on August first, I go to my bookshelf and take out my yellow and worn copy of Tuck Everlasting.
August has always felt sad to me. It’s not because I love summer and hate to see it go; on the contrary, summer is one of my least favorite seasons. It’s something else, some feeling that a year is ending. It’s leftover from school, for sure: you put the age and level you were behind you, and move to the next. As the leaves fall, you step up and away. You’re leaving something behind.
This feels especially true for me because my birthday is in October. Around the middle of August, I always start to feel that next year older – it seems so close, then. Twenty-eight is next, and it’s coming fast.
I started my Tuck Everlasting tradition in college, the August before I turned 21. It was a definitively youthful summer. I lived in Burlington, Vermont, in my first off-campus apartment with all of my friends. We all had dumb jobs – I worked at the Gap, others at Ben and Jerry’s – and we spent our nights drinking, and dancing through living rooms. I felt, that August, the beginning of some new sense of adulthood, and also the beginning of the end of this phase; after all, I had only two years of college to go.
One day that July, as I wandered aimlessly before my 2 PM shift, I found myself at a used book sale. I picked up a copy of Tuck, and I re-read it that evening. It’s a quick and beautiful read, a story that with simple elegance captures one of life’s most difficult truths: that it’s always changing, that it will eventually end.
“It’s a wheel, Winnie,” says Tuck. “Everything’s a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping…. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it is.”
The first week of August that year, I carried the book with me, and read the opening paragraph to anyone who’d let me. We sat on the roof of our apartment (forbidden by the landlord, but we did it all the time) and I read it aloud. We were kids and we felt invincible, but we knew it wouldn’t last forever.
In the years since, the book has taken on new meanings with each passing summer. In 2011, when I took a risk by leaving my steady, well-paid job to try something new, I thought of Winne, running away from home to find new ways of living. “The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox,” I read. “…Winnie, newly brave with her thoughts of being rescued, climbed boldly into the rowboat.”
At the end of the book, Mae and Tuck come back through the town of Treegap. Decades have passed and Winnie has died a beloved wife and mother, but they remain alive, doomed to immortality. Winnie, who has lived and changed and died, is the lucky one.
I continue to read Tuck Everlasting every August first, and I’ve tried to spread the gospel of Tuck to whoever will listen each year. Change is inevitable in August, but that is as it should be. Life is meant to contain movement. We will live, we will grow, we will die.
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