In books, summers always start out boring, predictable, and lazy – and then turn out to be exciting and magical. As a kid who read a lot of books, I always expected my summers to be that way. And since I was a kid, I usually found my own ways of spicing up my summers.
But this summer, my first summer as a real live adult (well, technically, anyway), I discarded all my old summer fantasies with disgust. I started on a bad note, leaving school and all my friends and coming back to boring ol’ home to live with my parents for four months.
Once I got home, I immediately got to work on cooking up a recipe for disaster: a cup of loneliness, several heaping spoonfuls of boredom and laziness, a dash of despair, and even a hint of self-loathing. Nothing seemed to turn out right. I was hoping to distract myself from my woes by busying myself with a job, but I couldn’t get a single interview. I wanted to get involved in my ward, but I felt uncomfortable and unwanted at activities. A heavy cloud of lousiness settled over me.
After giving up hope on a job and a social life, I clung desperately to my last wish: to visit Cedar. I just had to visit, even if only for a day. What had once been everyday activities for me became misty, far-off dreams; I fantasized about laughing with my old roommates, re-reading the quote book from my old house, walking down Main Street to buy a quarter soda. The more the summer dragged, the more impossible any such trip seemed. My brain stretched 500 miles to a million. But I hung on to my last shred of hope.
Finally, my chance arrived; I found out one of my friends was driving up for a summer camp and I asked him for a ride. To make a long story short, in the middle of July, I was sitting in the backseat of a minivan making its way to Utah.
Back in my old college town, I felt like I had been stuffed in a windowless closet for two months and had finally been let outside into the open air. Every breath I took seemed to whisper freedom. I remembered the excitement of every day that I had felt in Utah, the unpredictability and lightness that had filled my days. I was free again.
Those first two miserable months of summer had felt like prison. That trip made me realize the truth: my jailer had been me.
Gradually I had sucked every ounce of life out of me. Every time I enjoyed a cheerful day, it ended with myself reminding me angrily: you’re miserable. I had blamed everything and everyone else in life for my unhappiness – I would be happy if only I had a job, if only my family were more perfect, if only my ward were nicer, if only I still lived in Cedar. The fact is that my family and my ward are wonderful and I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I willingly deceived myself into believing that it wasn’t my fault I wasn’t happy.
So here’s the truth: Life isn’t perfect, and it never is. There are always numerous factors in our lives that we can be happy or sad about. Our happiness depends on what we dwell on.
After I realized this simple truth, I was ready to take on life again. Did life change? Only slightly, and most of the changes occurred because I took initiative and created the change. I still wouldn’t call my life here perfect, but I realized that my summer was a gift. I used my free time to spend with my family and friends who are closest to me, or to read and write. While I would still rather have a job, I’m grateful that I had the time to make memories with my family and to improve within myself. I have made so many changes to my own character this summer. At my core, I’m a different person today than I was only 4 months ago. And in a few years, I think that’s going to be worth more to me than any money I might have earned at some minimum-wage job.
In the end, I did have a summer worthy of a kids’ book. I may have started with a recipe for disaster, but I poured in enough magic to make a dark, moist chocolate cake with dollops of rich chocolate frosting. And when you have chocolate, what else do you need?