Summer Wish List

Sarah Buttenwieser
6 min readAug 30, 2020


Swimming with cousins 2020

For the first summer in very, very many, I didn’t write a Summer Wish List. I began to do them back when I blogged, motivated by someone else’s list to make my own. I linked to hers, although I no longer remember which blogger’s list inspired me.

The list, much like New Year’s Resolutions, worked differently in different years. Sometimes, it filled with links to things I did, places I loved, events that sounded very cool near to where I lived, like the potluck dinner across the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. I’ve never been to the Three County Fair. I never plan to attend. I do stand by things like eating Golonka corn. Some years, life seemed to impose constraints, often ones I really couldn’t write about out loud. Those summers, it was hard to produce a list that cheered my sweet Valley on, because I wasn’t feeling very “summer” in that celebratory of the light season way. When I tried to tell the more honest story, it became some version of apology, some less-is-more themed essay. My list shrunk to be modest, to highlight the small. There have been, when I think about it, many challenging summers in the last decade or so.

Arguably, the nectar of summer is more important during challenging times. The things that are special potentially protect us from despair, remind us of why life is a gift (which I do believe it is, even when it feels sucky and impossible). The two ways to kind of reliably find nectar when things are the hardest both involve going small. The low hanging fruit matters more, because the metaphorical and potentially real mountaintop has slid so far from reach. It’s the lesson palliative care offers: within the constraints of illness (in the case of palliative care, but substitute of this body or of now to use this formula disconnected from chronic illness, go with Kate Bowler’s theory that being human is a chronic condition), what matters most to me? What can I do to prioritize that?

Whether it really brought enough joy or not, the fact that during some painful times, when I visited my dad while he had leukemia, I could procure the lemon cake he loved from In the Night Kitchen bakery, and he enjoyed his cake, brought me outsized happiness. I reveled in his delight in the specific treat. Being able to discover this cake for him felt heroic (it surely wasn’t). I felt grateful he loved the fucking cake. I mean, who cares about cake? At that moment, we cared about cake more than anything, not for the cake, but for the sliver of simple happiness it provided. We cared about the moment delivered bite by bite.

All the Summer Wish List things, at heart, operate on the premise that we hope for glimmers of joy. We reach for glimmers of joy. It’s the promise the mass-produced cones wrapped in paper, which encircles the stem with that actual word, advertise. It’s the glorious sensation of a visit from an old friend who has happened by during travels, or this summer, a phone call from someone substituting for the drop-by time. It’s suspension of the everyday for the moment. Summer teases that with the sunshine, long days, and long weekends.

This summer, if like us, you were in self-imposed, Virus-informed, anxious isolation, maybe the season failed to offer all that familiar and beloved punctuation. We have not travelled nor have we received many friends from afar, although the porch visits turned into highlights and we await the arrival of some besties and their Westie to a nearby lake just after Labor Day, which both is and isn’t summer. In a stunning turn of Virus events, school will not yet have begun, because this year is this year, so we’ll count it as summer.

We had a special, rowdy swim with little cousins, the sole out of town family we’ve seen. We enjoyed possibly the best corn of our lives a week ago. We sought out legendary soft serve at the end of July on a rainy evening and reveled not only in the delicious treat, but the novelty of being on the highway briefly, at night, and of seeing a place by car we’d never been (a nearby town called Chicopee) save maybe for a soccer game. Also, going to a place called Mr. Cone was its own amusement.

As noted, it didn’t take much to feel good, but then again, it’s been hard to conjure even that much. We are in the times of ridiculously small goals (a borrowed phrase from this week) and ridiculously small delights. We are fortunate as hell is the truth, because we can enjoy them. We are deeply privileged not to worry about things that allow us the luxury to savor these. We imagine — if we don’t fall into a dictatorship or remain barred from entry to nearly every other country and afraid to see most of this country due to rampant Virus — that we will again travel. We still expect to see loved ones who live at a distance. I still expect to hug my eldest kid, quarantined nearby. I don’t know when, but I haven’t considered not hugging them again. For that, I’m thankful.

While I didn’t make a list this year, I did have a goal to ensure my youngest kid, who is twelve, could swim with friends, because she said to her that was summer. We wanted to make her summer our summer goal. There has been no camp, there have been no trips, but this has happened. In an unexpected turn of events, besides swims with friends, I served as Marco Polo partner many times. We’ve had fun swimming together. I’ve had fun being in the water. I wouldn’t have put that on my list, but it’s been a summer highlight for me. It’s a complicated, lonely one, too, that nonetheless brought us joy. Honestly, we haven’t had much joy this summer. We have had such fun when we’ve had fun and we’ve showed up for each other in this and so much else.

I had thought maybe I’d make a last-minute kind of End-of-Summer, Summer Wish List, but I’m not going to do that. I’m working to coax myself back to do something for Harris and Biden (I’ve donated; I’ve been relieved by the ticket) and all the races we need to go Blue. I’m struggling, because after nearly four years of low-level, pretty steady participation, right now, in the critical homestretch, I find myself paralyzed by terror. I’m engulfed in despair that’s coming too soon, although it feels more like a welled-up pool from nearly four years in which I am currently drowning. I feel similarly about the Virus, less and more terrified than those stark, cold early days when everything made the word menace leap to the fore. I hated, and still hate, that sensation of fear — I hate to be afraid of other people.

I ran into a very dear friend at the market this week. I was, at first, so delighted to glimpse her, and then almost immediately overcome with sadness. “I just want to give you a hug,” I said.

“Me, too,” she said.

“Covid sucks,” we said, in unison. Also, we couldn’t talk, because we were rushing through the shopping in enclosed communal space, both for safety’s sake and to free our spot in case others waited in line for their turn in the building, where capacity is limited.

Really, the things I most want are to hug everyone, and to line D.C on Inauguration Day 2021 so we could all say, “ADIOS” to this terrible regime. When I get caught up longing for time at the beach, it’s both real and bullshit, because deep down what I am missing isn’t the ocean. It’s the feeling that I can just enjoy the ocean, or whatever. I do have tiny moments when I do enjoy the front porch or the shared laugh or fantastic exercise class I take alone in my room, but feel connected to the teacher and the community, despite taking the taped version. I’m toggling between hope and fear, fear and hope. Maybe this is the same as it ever was, only I understand I’m not the only one here, even when I feel isolated in all of it.



Sarah Buttenwieser

Writer, brainstormer, networker — follow me on Twitter @standshadows