Vantage Point

Making the Livin’ Easy

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I’ve always loved the song “Summertime,” from George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.” The opening line, however, gives me pause: “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Easy? When the temperature hits the 90s and it looks as though steam is rising off the pavements and we’re all about to pass out from heat exhaustion?

I did some checking and found out that the lyricist was DuBose Heyward, who wrote the novel on which “Porgy and Bess” was based, while Ira Gershwin, George’s brother, is credited as co-lyricist. I’ll bet that one thing is sure about Heyward and Gershwin: Both of them had air conditioning.

I don’t find summer easy. Much of the time I find it trying. Not, of course, on those glorious days when the sky is bright blue and the breeze is gentle and cooling, and the temperature is 80 or less. It’s the oppressively hot weather, when the humidity makes me feel as if I’m wrapped in cellophane, that makes me miserable.

So with a lot of summer left on the calendar, I decided to think about things I’ve done or places I’ve visited in summer that made me feel happy and refreshed, and maybe even cool and comfortable. I hope that my reflections give you and me some ideas for getting through the worst of the heat with the least discomfort and the most enjoyment.

Once, while driving along the shore of Buzzards Bay on the Massachusetts mainland, I came upon a beautiful park overlooking the water. When I walked into the park, I came upon a stone bench with these words carved into it: “Take time to sit by the sea.” So I did, and it’s good advice. There is something about sitting quietly near the water that soothes the spirit and lays a calming hand on an anxious heart.

If the sea isn’t handy, try an alternative. A lake, a pond, a river or a brook all qualify for peaceful reflection. In fact, I can recommend a spot that’s well worth a visit: the prayer garden of St. John the Evangelist Church in Mahopac. The garden is across the street from the church, on the shore of Lake Mahopac. It contains beautiful statues, and there are benches to sit on. My sister and brother-in-law, Betty and Frank Gilbreth, belong to the parish, and I’ve visited the garden several times with them. It’s a beautiful, meditative place, with the sound of water gently lapping the rocks on the shoreline. For prayer or just a quiet, peaceful atmosphere, it’s perfect.

There are other parishes with gardens and outdoor shrines. Take a look in your area; you might find one you didn’t know about.

Local and state parks have trails that offer shade and scenery for walkers and hikers. Not all of the trails require top physical condition; some are suitable for those of us who need a gentler pace or less challenging terrain. Check them out online or at the library. By the way, summer is a great time to visit your local library to catch up on books or periodicals you wanted to read, and many libraries offer events such as film screenings, art exhibits or lectures. More than likely, it’s all air-conditioned—another reason to put a visit to the library on your summer list.

If you have a backyard, or if there’s a park nearby where picnicking is permitted, get family and friends together and throw a party. Make a few salads, put the soda cans on ice and grill some hamburgers and hot dogs. I still remember the cookouts we had in our small backyard when I was a kid, and how much my dad, who grew up in Manhattan, loved them. He would make a campfire where we kids roasted marshmallows on twigs after the sun went down in a blaze of red and gold. Hearing the crickets chirp and knowing that tomorrow would bring more summer adventures made it feel like heaven.

It’s enough to make me rethink how I feel about summer. Maybe the livin’ is easy, after all.

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