They magically appear in mid-August. Rogue flowers that look like some kind of miniature lily. Delicate pink faces on a smooth, crisp leafless stem, which I suppose explains why they’re called “naked ladies.” I never planted them and even when I thought I dug out all the bulbs in our front bed, there they are–incorrigible little beauties. They pop up in clumps of two or three in random places, bloom for about a week and along with the increasingly frenzied sound of the cicadas, remind me that summer’s almost over. That for those of us who are governed by the school year, the dreaded Sunday night of August is officially here .
For only the second time since I was five years old, I will not be going back to school this year. Our stint as part-time teachers is over, and that’s ok. We accomplished what we set out to do. But we still feel that sense of coming down the home stretch to Labor Day, of anticipating foggy early mornings walking into spider webs on the porch, driving home in oppressive late afternoon heat and watching the darkness arrive a little sooner each evening. The pool has grown bathwater-warm, my hanging baskets that were so lush in May are now straggly and tired, and my husband’s beloved Orioles should probably just forfeit the season and start over again next spring.
It had been a typical summer until last week when something happened that caused a seismic shift in our perspectives. In what we take for granted. In what we assume will never happen. When the phone rings because a close friend doesn’t show up for work and we are an emergency contact. When several of us arrive at her home to find her desperately ill and have to make decisions and do things we never thought we’d have to do. Things that probably crossed the line of getting into someone else’s business, but the circumstances offered no choice. A situation where you just take a deep breath, plunge in, and worry about the fall-out later.
Thanks be to God, our friend will recover. We will go to restaurants and concerts and spend time at the beach just as we always have. But last week’s events rattled us right out of our late-summer malaise. Reminded us that just like those chalkboard signs you see in the gift shops, friends do become our chosen family and sometimes that means you’re there when the ambulance comes.
Meanwhile, summer continues to drag herself toward fall. The hummingbirds are starting to tank up more often at the feeder in preparation for their long journey south. I always rejoice at the sight of the first one in the spring and reluctantly take the feeders down when they go untouched for several weeks in the fall. The naked ladies have run their course and are wilted and brown.
I simply take for granted that I’m going to see those little pink flowers every year, poking their heads out of the forest of hydrangeas. Just like I take for granted that things are always going to be the same. But, like the naked ladies, our fragile beauty only appears for a brief time and we bloom best when grown in clumps of two or three.