By Beth Levine.
I’ve seen a few sunrises since the days when I eagerly picked out my first-day-of-school outfit or packed the car to the roof for the ride back to college. So why, when September rolls around, do I still feel that rush of expectation, of the excitement of new possibilities? While most people are grabbing at the last BBQs of summer, I am eagerly anticipating getting back into action. For me, New Year’s isn’t in December–it’s Labor Day.
It is coded into my DNA that September means getting back to school and friends, and picking out new clothes, pencils, erasers and books. (Yes, I know, I am dating myself. These days it would be new iPads and laptops.) The smell of new textbooks and the knowledge that the path of my next nine months lies within them. Would my teachers be nice? Who was in my classes? But most of all, when I was a school kid, September was the time when the slate of the previous year was wiped clean and there was the chance to start all over. Maybe this was the year I wouldn’t feel like a monstrous dork, maybe this was the year (dare I say it out loud?) a boy would notice me and the world would recognize my immense genius. Hey, why not think big? Anything was possible.
It actually did pan out that way once. The summer between sixth grade elementary school and seventh grade junior high, I shed my braces, got contact lenses, shot up an inch and out a new bra size. I convinced my mother to stop braiding my hair and get me a decent haircut. Come September, I entered my new homeroom and kids’ jaws dropped on the ground. The magic didn’t last, of course. Within minutes I was same old loudmouth me again, but that moment before, when reality and fantasy collided, was indescribable. Life doesn’t often hand you such deliciousness.
I may have long ago mentally stopped paying attention to the school calendar, but my insides haven’t. By the end of August, I feel like it’s enough already, let’s get with the program. Out with the old, in with the new. The swallows return to Capistrano, the salmon swim upstream, and when September 1 arrives, my body feels the need to go…somewhere, and do…something. This is the year.
The problem is: I really don’t have anywhere to go or do that marks the new beginning, so I’ve decided to create my own inspiration. I think this year when I see the school bus schedule in the newspaper, instead of just letting the feeling wash over me, I will create my own ritual. Maybe something like this:
On the first day of school in my area, I am going to dress up in a way that makes me look fabulous but not like I am trying too hard. (That was always key. If kids sensed that you were actually trying, they’d smell blood in the water and attack, and you might as well kiss the year goodbye.) At 7 am, when the parade of backpacks lumber down my street, I’ll take a new notebook and a really good pen (there is nothing like the feel of a really good pen in your hand), tell my husband goodbye and walk out the door. I may not go farther than my front stoop, but here’s the important part. I will sit down, and flip open the notebook. At the top of the page, I will write my name. I will write under that: Subject: Life. And then under that, I will print very neatly: This is the year. Because lately I’ve realized that vague and restless excitement I feel has a name: Hope.
And I’m never too old for that.
Beth Levine is an award-winning writer whose essays have been published in O, More, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, The Chicago Tribune, and many other major publications. Bethlevine.net, @BethLevine75.