by Stephanie Ward, Social Worker, Homestead Hospice & Palliative Care
Is there anyone else out there who, like me, feels like the heat of the summer is really, really getting to them? I, for one, find myself cranky and sweaty all the time. In the mornings, I feel like my body is literally made of lead. It feels like an immovable object that I have to propel out of my bed using all of my will power because, really, what choice do I have? I’m also tired of always having to wear a mask, I really miss people, hugs, even mundane things like running to the grocery store for no reason at all. It’s overwhelming sometimes to think of all the terrible things happening around us – things we have no control over.
So, for many months now, I have deliberately stayed away from the news because, for some reason, no one reports the good stuff. Today though, I made an exception, and boy, am I glad I did! Because (and I don’t know how Apple does it) my feed was magically filled with articles about how extreme heat can negatively impact the mood. For one thing, I realized that I was far from alone, and just the simple normalization of my periodic crankiness instantly made me feel so much better! I was not only reminded that it’s OK to have a bad moment, or even an entire bad day, but to also engage in self-care that makes me happy…self-care that works for me. For the record, I am not the meditating or journaling type. So today, I made a promise to myself that I would drink lots of water, step out for a walk, smile at random dogs, and binge-watch the Olympics. In a world that seems to be spinning out of control, I promised myself that I would carve out time for doing things that I can control and that bring me joy. And now I ask you the same question - what will make you happy today? I am challenging each one of you to very deliberately, and with full intent, do at least one thing today that will bring you joy. As you go through another hot summer day, remember that when you are not feeling OK, when you are feeling beside yourself, that you are not alone – there’s a sea of humanity right there beside you!
The month, August, gets its name from Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar. We have always associated the month with heat and humidity and refer to this time of year as the “dog days of summer”.
Why dog days? Why not some other animal? As one might expect there is some history here. The concept dates back to Greek and Roman times. Originally, the days ran from July 24th through August 24th. It was thought that this was an evil time when the sea would boil, wine would turn sour and dogs would go mad. Disease would also be on the rise. The dates for this period have varied somewhat over the centuries with the King James Bible having the span as July 6th and ending September 5th.
As it turns out, the canine connection refers to Sirius (the Dog Star) in the constellation Canis Major (large dog). It is mentioned in Greek poetry as far back as 700 BC. At that time Sirius (the brightest star in the northern hemisphere) was seen to rise just before or at the same time as the sun. The problem here is that a little event, known as precession, has taken place. It seems that the Earth, as it orbits the sun, is not precisely upright but tilts slightly (23.5 degrees from absolute vertical). Neither the sun nor our moon like that and exert gravitational pull to try to correct our tilt. The result is a periodic (about every 26,000 years) wobble, which changes our perspective with respect to how we view the surrounding stars and constellations.
In other words Sirius (the Dog Star) is not there at or before sunrise anymore. Perhaps if the star, viewed by the ancients, had been Deneb in Cygnus, we would have the “Swan days of summer” instead.