Dog Days of August

They’re here. Actually, they’ve been here since July: the dog days of summer. 

The original meaning of that phrase has been largely lost. The dog days refer to late July and August in the northern hemisphere, the hottest days so named for the rising of the “dog” star known as Sirius in Greek and Roman times. They were connected with “heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck,” according to Wikipedia. 

Today add to that enraged, shrill people. 

Will we survive August? The presidential conventions? Is there anything left to tear down? Can things get any worse? My friend wondered that aloud and then his 4-year-old labradoodle became lethargic, was diagnosed with cancer, and had to be put down. So yes, things can always get worse. 

But can they get better? Anytime soon? Where is our hope? How to harness the hot, bright sunshine to our national mood? Civility would help. Kindness. Helpfulness. Laughing with children who seem always to know how to do that. Finding a project, work that has purpose is empowering. Dialing back emotion destresses. 

I recently talked with my 96-year-old cousin in Louisiana. She had grown up during the Depression, been a nurse in WW2, lived through everything I’ve lived through, but she avowed she had never seen anything like the present. She felt completely overwhelmed. You don’t have to be 96 to feel that way. 

As schools hopefully set to reopen, I am reminded of my days as a schoolteacher. Having an undergraduate and master’s in American history at prestigious universities, I taught at the college level. Before getting a master’s, it was obligatory to take historiography, the academic discipline of studying how history is written. Original sources were prioritized. I would not want to teach American history today as it is being edited, erased, embellished, and modified to fit political narratives and agendas. 

Telling your story, in writing, in photographs, and in conversation while learning about others is essential because, without it, we are amnesiacs. 

We need quiet voices too. 

The hope in these dog days is the collective memory of all Americans. It is a rich and varied tableau. 

May we all be inoculated with hope as this American story unfolds. It will be some time before 2020, a watershed year in history as a whole, can be put into perspective. But everyone’s perspective matters.

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