“Golly, what a long hot summer it’s been,” a new friend sighed the other evening over her wine glass at my elbow. We were sitting together at the end of a lively dinner table on a long screened porch overlooking the Pamlico River at sunset.
I agreed, though I wasn’t sure whether she meant the weather or the news or a painful combination thereof. Whatever else was true, it has indeed been a long hot summer.
“Being here is so nice after all the terrible news, don’t you think?” she clarified, nodding toward the two dozen couples chowing down on the summer’s best sweet corn and jumbo tomatoes, fresh shrimp, grilled chicken, watermelon and homemade desserts. The adult beverages were flowing liberally, and the buzz of conversation and laughter made this scene feel very far from the newsreel suddenly playing in my head.
It began with a civilian airliner filled with 300 innocent travelers shot out of the sky by Russian rebels who looted their remains in a field of sunflowers. It quickly moved on to the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. Next came the war in Gaza, with its wailing families and failed cease-fires, a living nightmare that began with murdered teenagers and turned into a war about rockets and tunnels.
Meanwhile, a masked army calling itself the Islamic State — deemed by some as the most credible threat to America since 9/11 and the free world at large since the days of the Nazi Germany — was growing their ancient caliphate by documenting their jihadist atrocities and decapitating journalists on the Internet.
Then came the shooting of an unarmed teenager on a street in suburban St. Louis, setting the streets of Ferguson aflame with violence and looting and disturbing images of police with military weapons leveled at other Americans. It looked more like the civil war happening in eastern Ukraine than a protest from the heart of America.
Now, while a president who admits he has no strategy yet on how to deal with these matters was relaxing on Martha’s Vineyard, America was busy dumping ice water on its heads and posting its images on Facebook.
“You know what got me the most?” my table-mate thoughtfully added. “It was the suicide of Robin Williams. I’m still having a hard time with that. Maybe even he just couldn’t find anything funny about things this summer.”
She was right, of course. Were he still with us, on the other hand, the clown prince of American comedy and funniest guy since Red Skelton would undoubtedly tell you that pain is a comedian’s best friend, that most good humor actually comes from making light of your own insecurities or someone else’s, stumbling over a rug and falling into the wedding cake, skewering your favorite sacred cow or someone else’s, having high sport with a mother-in-law or cheating spouse.
Williams’ hilarious riff on the game of golf comes to mind. If you’ve never seen it, simply Google it. Then prepare to have a good laugh at the absurdity of this painful Presbyterian pastime so many of us love without being loved back, usually made to feel like fools chasing an elusive white ball.
Any Way You Look At It
However you choose to look back at the events of the summer of ’14, on the face of things, there’s probably little or nothing to laugh about.
That’s why an event like the annual end-of-summer shindig affectionately called the South Hawkins Invitational Tournament — with its coyly naughty acronym — a gathering of friends from Raleigh who come together for mediocre golf and great fellowship over a weekend on the Pamlico River, was such a welcome relief last weekend.
My own summer, you see, has been one of limping around on a bum knee and finishing a book that should have been on my editor’s desk weeks ago, never venturing far from the hutch while my neglected garden filled with exotic weeds. Hopes of traveling abroad or even just spending a week at the coast with our far-flung family simply never materialized. And owing to the gimpy knee, I have managed to play exactly one full round of golf since the injury in early May. It wasn’t pretty.
“Only great sorrow or great joy can reveal your truth,” wrote Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese writer and third-most-popular poet in American history. “If you would be revealed you must either dance naked in the sun, or carry your cross.”
Near as I could tell, the 18 or so competitors of the tournament kept most of their clothes on but metaphorically danced around a beautiful old golf course in Little Washington. They traded barbs and good-natured jokes about ailing games and the endless folly of male vanity, amusing our wives and revealing the truth that the company of good friends may be one of the few things in modern life that can bring you a little shot of joy when you need it most.
For the record, the winner of this year’s tournament was a buddy who prepared for the third annual S - -T by avoiding all exercise save riding his bike and fishing, and not picking up his golf clubs in more than a year.
“Once word of this gets out into the golf world,” said my friend Whit, the S - - T’s surprise Champion Golfer of the Year 2014, accepting the tournament’s coveted trophy (a cheap statue of a cod with a candle in it) during the aforementioned dinner on the porch, “I predict great players everywhere will be putting down their golf clubs and forgetting where they put them. They’ll be eating and drinking things they shouldn’t, and skipping all that pointless time on the practice range. This could revolutionize golf, take Rory and Phil and the rest to a whole new low level.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, even though I played well but wound up somewhere near the bottom of the final standings. No worries. I’ll be back next summer, a year older and no better at the old Scottish game that gave Robin Williams such a brilliant topic to skewer. My only hope is that next summer will give us a little more to genuinely laugh at than cry about.
Meanwhile, as this summer’s lease expires and a new season of life gets under way, we can only carry our crosses forward and hope to dance in the sunlight again soon in a world that sadly reveals itself every time you turn on — and off — the news.