Of all the senseless cockwomble statements you tend to hear, the one that irritates me like capsicum on the gonads is “whatever doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger”. No, it doesn’t. Trauma, most of the time, is survivable, but it certainly doesn’t enhance your resilience. What really does make us stronger are those things that enable us to thrive. Things such as laughter, love, friendship, wonder, and joy. If we are able to find and experience enough of those during our lifetimes, then just maybe we will find ourselves strong enough to survive whatever storms come our way. This is why I look forward to the lazy, carefree circus of summer.
While winter is often a time of survival, summer is a time to find joy and thrive. There is a magic to this season of fireworks and fireflies that cannot be denied.
When I was a child, I loved the traveling carnival that would visit my dreary hometown each summer, setting up in a stretch of wasteland next to an abandoned, and reputedly haunted, factory building.
I loved everything about it. I loved the colored lights, the Ferris wheel and the tilt-a-whirl, the excitement of the midway crowds. I loved the merchant stalls, featuring fatty, sugary foods, fortune tellers behind beaded curtains, cheesy rock band t-shirts, black velvet artwork depicting tigers, tropical flowers, volcanoes, demons riding motorcycles, and Chinese dragons. All the sights and sounds; all the smells. It was as if a messy, chaotic electric fairyland had descended overnight from the heavens. Fairgrounds are everything that discotheques and parties should be, but never are. Now that I am deep into middle age, I am still searching high and low for the joy and light that I found there.
Perhaps most of all, I loved the row of stalls housing games to play. Air rifle shooting games, dart throwing games, games of skill and games of chance. The one that sticks most in my mind is a betting game involving painted tin horses and jockeys racing in slots around a miniature oval track. You would drop your coin in the slot and bet on the colour of your choice. (A great way for children to learn the ropes of gambling before one day betting their paychecks on the real thing! I remember being pretty charged up by winning a battery-powered plastic cigar with a glowing red tip – a more than usually profitable outcome for my sporting inclinations.)
And if anybody ever asked me to describe a perfect metaphor for mortality, I would absolutely choose that game. And they’re off! Heart attack, highway crash, diabetic coma, brain tumour, cirrhotic liver, stray bullet, lung disease, train derailment, food poisoning, knife attack: which will be the first of these fast riders to pass the post? Of course, there’s always the chance that some dark horse could make a sneaky move up the inside stretch and beat the odds. One could be playing second base in a beer league softball tournament, for example, and be bitten on the ankle by a deadly cobra escaped from a reptile farm. One could take a job going house-to-house selling aluminum siding, and encounter a doorknob slathered with novichok. One never knows. Mortality is always an unpredictable and dodgy sport, at best, and the fix might be in.
All you can do is pay your admission and enjoy the carnival. Wander the midway, fill your belly with hot dogs and donuts, buy yourself a sequined Led Zeppelin t-shirt, cover yourself in glow sticks, buckle yourself into a spinning teacup, throw your head back, and howl your heart out at the big yellow moon reflected in the cracked windows of the haunted, burned-out building. That’s what summers are for: to make us wilder, happier, and stronger than we might otherwise have been.