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The days when time stands still

Posted Aug. 12, 2013, at 7:08 a.m.
Hector Casanova | MCT

On the second day after school lets out in June, I start fretting that vacation will soon be over. Only 10 more weeks before our teenager has to resume rousing himself before dawn! I can’t face it.

But somehow, right about this time in August every year, summer seems to give us a reprieve. Yes, the back-to-school sales have started, and in the park some kids already have brought out the footballs.

For a few days, though, time seems as syrupy as the atmosphere. You get fooled into thinking that maybe August will just go on forever. During our nighttime walks, the dog and I can hardly hear ourselves think over the droning insects that drown out even the air-conditioner units at every house. The impatiens have grown leggy; the hopeful pinks and blues of the hydrangea blooms have given way to a uniform rust. And sometimes we don’t see another soul. We might be in one of those apocalyptic blockbusters that apparently no one is going to this summer, in which the human race has been wiped out, only here the conquerors haven’t bothered to stick around either.

Or our species has been replaced by rabbits. In the spring, the dog was perplexed and delighted by their sudden profusion and, when given free rein, would give them a run for their lives, stopping only after they’d finally cut sharply and disappeared confoundingly into some low azaleas. Now she pretends not to notice as they stand brazenly a few feet away. Once in a while she’ll feint in their direction and then resume her walk with her head held high, as though if she pretends that’s all a dog is supposed to do, you won’t notice that the rabbit has contemptuously resumed mowing the lawn 10 feet away.

You know, of course, that the world hasn’t really stopped. In neighborhoods just a few miles away, the sirens are louder than the crickets. In Syria, children continue to be orphaned every day.

But some troubles just seem to recede. Fannie and Freddie still haven’t been reformed. Unemployment is still rising in Greece. Your newspaper’s been sold. You know it’s all terribly important, but for a few days in August you can’t quite summon the expected outrage or concern.

After our walk, we join the family on the porch. The fan thumps and whirrs, the dog pants, the cicadas turn themselves off and on. No one has to nag about homework or bedtime. At the office, we write editorials about how summer vacations go on too long. I believe them, of course — the research is clear, poor kids fall behind and have trouble catching up — but my heart’s not in them. Forever wouldn’t be too long, I think.

 Fred Hiatt writes for the The Washington Post.

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