As an East Coast transplant, I expected every summer in Merced County to be idyllic.
I am certainly not talking about the dry heat or the fluctuating temperatures. All of the Valley is the same in that respect.
I expected Merced to have its own unique summer flavor. And, indeed, Merced has its own surprises for us.
Yes, there are many activities planned for the summer.
Merced Mall's Summer Music Series showcases musicians of varying backgrounds at 6 p.m. every Saturday.
Of course, there is the annual Merced County Fair for a change of pace. There is even the Merced Summer Almond Meeting coming up Wednesday where one can learn about summer insect pest management in almond orchards.
But time and the economy have taken their toll this year, and we are the poorer for it.
A good example of this is the film series in the park has been drastically cut back.
With unemployment on the rise, summer jobs for teenagers are few and far between.
As to travel and vacations, the forecast for summer 2009 travel indicates fewer travelers spending far less money.
This bodes poorly for Merced as a gateway to Yosemite.
A new Associated Press poll shows just 42 percent of Americans have leisure travel in mind this summer. Many of us are just staying home or going just down the road a bit.
Times are tough.
The moratorium on mortgages has just ended and we in Merced can expect a new rash of foreclosures.
School is out and there are more young boys and girls on the loose with less to take up their time and entertain them.
The summer often is peak time for gang enrollment.
Our societal mores teach us that we are masters of our own fate.
So I ask: Are we optimistically working to enjoy our summer respite from school and are we attempting to maximize our vacation respite from work? Are we working toward a great summer in Merced?
Or, are we being as pessimistic as King Solomon, who wrote: "What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There is nothing new on this Earth. Year after year it is the same old thing." (Ecclesiastes in the Message Bible)
Solomon was considered the wisest man in his generation. Yet, he did not get it right.
There can be something new, encouraging, and even courageous going on in Merced this summer. It depends on each one of us.
Are we taking more time to spend with our families? Are we stopping to complain about what's wrong and work toward what is right here in Merced? Are we helping those who are losing home and livelihood?
This is the time for us to stand up and be counted.
This is the time for Mercedians to show that they care and that -- in fraternal love and fellowship -- we will do our share to make Merced's summer a success.
The Rev. Billy Graham had it right when he said, "Love is to the heart what the summer is to the farmer's year. It brings to harvest all the loveliest flowers of the soul."
So let us all be at our loving best this summer, right here in Merced. Enjoy your time off.
Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission.