Each year in Bowling Green ends pretty much the same way. It gets moderately warm, with bouts of awful humidity. A large mass of students leave, and we briefly reclaim the town. There are cookouts, cigars on the back porch, walks through town, games of croquet or bocce...you know, the good stuff.
Then everything starts changing. Some people, realizing they have no definite plans for the next year, start to panic. Some people try to cram in as much work as possible since teaching will leave them no time to do what they love. Some people regress under deadlines, and you don't see them for stretches of time. And then, there's the worst part of the summer: people leave.
This is the thing I've never really gotten used to, even though I've been experiencing it all my life. As an Air Force brat, I regularly had to make new friends every year as families dispersed throughout the globe. When my father retired and we moved to Florida, I marveled at how some of my new friends had known each other for years, since they were little kids. For a while, there was stability...but then I moved up to Ohio, and I had to get used to grad school scattering us to the wind each year.
I've hauled more couches up more stairs than I care to remember. I've helped pack trucks, trailers, car trunks. I've strained muscles walking desks down narrow stairways. I've given the goodbye handshake/hand bump/hug/wave more times than I can recall. And it's been a long time since I realized how many residences in this town I know only because friends used to live in them.
Today, I got to help another friend move. I'm glad for him...he's going to a very good post-doc, which will do great things for his career. And I know that he'll be back...for dissertation defense, for a conference, maybe more. But this wasn't the main thing in my thoughts. Instead, as we were sweating, hauling, cleaning, I realized two things.
First off, I love all my friends dearly. However, you learn a lot about people when there's a mass packing operation. I learned that as wonderful people as my friends are, most of them would never last in factory or warehouse work.
More importantly, though, I was comparing this summer to last, and I realized that, overall, I am in much better shape than I was a year ago. Only one friend is moving away, while two are actually moving back. And beyond that, there are any number of people in this town who, one year ago, were just faces I would see every so often. I'd see this guy at parties, this guy at the coffee shop, this couple only every so often...and now we're friends.
It's good to know that I've connected with a whole circle of people I didn't really know last year. It gives me hope that this time next year, I will know several more people, strangers that have turned into friends. It almost takes the sting away from thinking of all those people who, long having departed this small Ohio town, I see so infrequently.
Such are the bittersweet thoughts of summer.