Some watered-down reflections from poolside

Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop

It’s that tad sad time of year. Temperatures and humidity assure us that it’s still summer, but subtle changes are blowin’ in the wind.

Bobby McFerrin’s inane ditty, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is providing an appropriate background refrain over the Westover Pool complex’s public-address system on this splenderific Sunday afternoon.

It’s sunny and warm, but nothing comparable to the blast furnace week that we just experienced and somehow survived, even those who sweltered away at outdoor jobs.

At the moment, this is the place to be, lounging on the pool deck with wife Anna engrossed in a suspense novel in the chair next to me, her first time this summer to join me here.

Swimming has long been a favorite pastime – good aerobic exercise, refreshing, energizing. I got a season pass again this summer, a good deal, and am always sorry when the complex closes on Labor Day.

I realize that the door of opportunity remains open to take off work for the equivalent of about one day before everything breaks loose and I’m inundated with requests from persons who have been on junkets for much of the summer. That’s part of the rhythm of my work, and I’ve grown accustomed to the pattern over 36 years at the same workplace.

At the same time, it’s too easy to become nonchalant about the rituals that accompany the start of a new academic year, and I have to resist the urge to relax, go with the flow and refuse to feel empathy for the much coming and going of personnel and other change that is second nature to an educational enterprise.

I feel a strange mix of anticipation and dismay, excitement and tingling nostalgia. A primary theme for me these days is to sustain a desire to give my whole being to my work, continue to find satisfaction and fulfillment in what I do, not slacking off after so many years in a similar routine.

I’m well aware that I’m not indispensable to this place; others are perfectly capable of doing what I do, probably better than this aging boomer who is slow to adjust to the rapidly changing technology that seems to be driving us these days.

Overall, it’s been a great summer. At the moment, we’re enjoying a few luscious tomatoes off the six plants that constitute our garden this year. It’s hard to beat fresh, buttered sweetcorn and sliced tomatoes for a sumptuous summer sensation.

Once again I didn’t get in my allotted vacation time (my problem), but what did occur was exceptional – traveling on Blue Ridge Parkway en route to Asheville, N.C., to visit the Biltmore Estate; a week in Ocean City, N.J., with our immediate family (a longstanding Bishop tradition); a Sunday afternoon top-down trek through mountainous terrain to Franklin, W.Va., Monterey, Va., and Staunton, Va.; as part of a Miata caravan.

Each time we were blessed with wonderful weather, and all I can say is, “Thank you, Lord.” In the midst of my midsummer’s day reverie, the thought strikes: What if Anna and I had remained in Elkhart, Ind., where we started out as a married couple in 1967? What different directions might our lives have taken? Would we still be in the same line of work – writing and teaching – today? Would our offspring have taken a similar educational and vocational route to what they’d traveled here? Would avocational opportunities that I’ve experienced in Harrisonburg, especially free-lance projects and radio programming, have also emerged there?

I don’t obsess on questions like these, but my mind tinkers with them on occasion. One thing for sure: I miss some dear friends we made in our four years there, but wouldn’t trade Northern Indiana weather and scenery (lack thereof) for our Shenandoah Valley setting.

Oh, summer, please linger a little longer. Autumn can be a scrumptious time in the Valley, but this month, and the year, is too swiftly slip-sliding away.

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.



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