The summer solstice is this coming Friday, bringing us folks in the Northern Hemisphere our longest day of the year. We're entering into razzle-dazzle time, when the scope of our lives broadens to meet the longer, brighter days and summer's endless offerings. So much comes tumbling in at this time of year, so much is tugging at our attention: ripening fruit, sprouting vegetables, garden weeds and needs. Suddenly much of life is being lived outdoors, with all the beach-going, picnic-making, backyard-grilling that comes with it. It's hard not to be giddy with all the endless pleasures that come with this time of year.
If you're a cook, and if you've lived long enough to understand the fleeting nature of things, then you may also feel, along with the delights, the pressure to make hay (or, more to the point, jam, pickles, tomato salads) while you can. All these summer offerings can also make us a little greedy, and while we may meet our desire to do it all, it sometimes is at the expense of any deep engagement with it. When our activities simply become something to cross off a list, then they often become more about the crossing off and less about the activity itself.
So this summer I'm experimenting with not doing it all. When my schedule starts to pile up, or my to-do list starts to cause pain, I simply engage in some major pruning. This is sometimes a painful process, it's true, but when I do this, I have more time and space and attention for the things remaining. So when I'm making apricot jam (for instance) I'm capturing not only the taste and energy and brightness of summer, but the moment I'm making the jam as well. When I'm present for the delights that are inherent in this activity, they register more deeply and become a brighter, more significant thread in my emotional makeup.
When I made my jam this week, I didn't just throw all 12 pounds of apricots into a big pot and make a big production out of it. Instead, I picked out the apricots that were the most ripe and I cut them up, sugared them, and put them in the fridge to macerate overnight. The next day I cooked them down some, keeping the pot on low on the back of the stove while I was doing other things in the kitchen. When they were done, I canned up a small batch of four jars. A day or so later, I did a few more and so on, until at the end of the week, I had over a dozen jars of jam with absolutely no stress.
What I did have, and still have, were moments of deep engagement with my life. Moments of noticing the texture and color of the apricots, how soft and baby-like they felt. The stickiness of the juice, the way the pits easily fell from the riper ones and stuck a little to the less ripe. How they collapsed in the hot sugar and how the taste changed when I added a touch of lemon juice and again when I added a vanilla pod.
If the purpose of making apricot jam was just to get it done, it wouldn't have been the worst thing. Having a line of jam on your kitchen counter is a marvelous site to behold and eating it or giving it away though out the year is equally nice. But having the spaciousness in my life to meet the moment while making the jam, to touch it in a significant way, is equally marvelous, equally nourishing and pleasurable. Like those jars of jam, this experience is something that will support and enrich my life in the days to come, when things might not be so razzle-dazzle and full of bright possibility.
And even better is that this brightness, too, can be shared. Presence and attention are gifts that we can bring to every encounter we have with the people in our lives, whether it be our loved ones or the grocery store checkout clerk. Even if we're not holding a jar of summertime apricot jam in our hands, we still hold its lessons in our heart, and in our bodies. When they're that integrated, when they're that much of a part of the fiber of our being, we can't help but give it away. Like the sun, we have no choice but to shine.