August is the Cruelest Month

T.S. Eliot was wrong. August, not April, may well be the cruelest month.

August marks the end of summer. August marks the new school year. It is -- the end of summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere -- a month of beginnings and endings.

I was born August 20, near the end of August. Just when my life began, summer ended. Growing up, there were a lot of August birthday parties that my best friends couldn't attend: family vacations and what have you. You see, during August, everyone crams in those last minute trips, forcing themselves to unwind, to relax -- if such things are possible -- to get away before the routine of autumn takes hold. August, even in its sunniest, always contains the calendrical pressures of returning back-to-work and back-to-school.

August seven years ago, back-to-school meant that my family would have health insurance again. I was a graduate student then, with a 9 month contract and no pay and no benefits over the summer months. August meant a paycheck and insurance -- and so back-to-school 2005, my then-husband Anthony could finally visit the doctor for some digestive issues that had been plaguing him all summer. He figured it was indigestion. The doctor recognized immediately: it was cancer.

Liver cancer, and then pancreatic cancer, and then lung cancer. And then 11 months later, Anthony died. August 29, 2005. Six years ago today. The same day that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. His parents, I should note, but damn, I am skipping a lot of the story here, lived in Louisiana.

For me and for many many others who have felt the devastation that these storms bring, I will insist: August is the cruelest month.

In August 2005, 9 nine days before Anthony died, I turned 34. This year, I turned 40.

This year -- this month, of course -- our son Isaiah moved into his own place. He graduated from high school and turned 18 this June. A happier month, I should note, with gentler weather and a pearl gemstone.

Please -- let me make this really clear right now -- nobody needs to comment here by saying "I'm so sorry." We are born. We die. In August as in every single month of the year.

But for me, birth and death seem to revolve around August -- literally, figuratively.

A lot of things have occurred this month for me -- personally, professionally -- to mark both beginnings and endings. My son has moved out. I've got rid of almost all my possessions as I've prepared to live more nimbly and lightly, sure, but also to live on the road.

I'm striking out this month on my own in a lot of ways as an ed-tech journalist, having left ReadWriteWeb at the end of July. I watch my son, striking out on his own and wishing that he had the same confidence and clarity. But it's up to him now to learn. Ah, the cruelty of August.

Despite a lifetime of parenting him, I recognize so powerfully now the millions of ways in which I've failed to prepare him for what's next even though it's felt for the last seven years at least, that he knows too much about life and death already. But now, when it comes to the minutiae of adulthood, damn, I could fill notebooks full of tips and pointers and instructions. And even though, as I said, I got rid of almost every possession, including a massive book collection, I went through each title with care before I took it to the secondhand store, thinking specifically "should Isaiah read this." Needless to say, he now has a library that blends his own J.K. Rowling collection with a fair number of beat poets and the obligatory Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And that's all I can do now, I guess: point him to others, to elders and remind him that the world is cruel, sure, but you must move forward -- endings are beginnings and so it goes.

It's not always beautiful. It's rarely poetic. Sometimes endings feel like just that. The end. When there's a storm, sometimes there's a rainbow at the end. Fresh air and flowers unfolding and such. And sometimes, when there's a storm, there's just devastation -- you look around at what's left behind.

Father and Child

For me, this August marks an amazing transformation. It's an end, no doubt -- the end of having a kid at home, the end of living in Eugene permanently, the end of my fourth decade on this planet. I've had to sort through boxes and baggage and memories and fears this month. Cruel, but there you have it. Now both my son and me are on to see what next we can become...
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -- Steve Jobs, 2005

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