How you spent your summer

Family packs their vehicle for summer vacation.  One excited little boy waits by the car.

(CNN)It's the oldest assignment in the book, but it's a first for us -- CNN Opinion is turning its weekly column over to you, our readers. After nearly a year of publishing our weekly newsletter and just over six months of asking readers to share stories with us, it felt important to pause with you, to take a deep breath together before the school year gets back in full swing and the 2020 campaign trail gets even more relentless. What better way to spend Labor Day Weekend?

2019 was a summer of extremes. Mass shootings brought extreme fear. The month of July, the hottest on record, brought extreme temperatures. We asked: What did you do with your summer vacation? What did you think about, read or do that kept you going amid the extremes?
The stories you shared -- we just couldn't stop reading them.
    Marilyn Copland wrote to say: "My identical twin from MN and I from Canada (both US citizens with same DNA but opposite political views) recently celebrated our 80th Birthday on ATVs on top of Whistler Mountain in British Columbia with my family of 30 children and grandchildren who traveled from around the World. No politics, no drama just a loving beautiful family enjoying precious time together. Life doesn't get better!"
    It just doesn't get better than this was a theme echoed by Jon Schulman of Queens, describing a trip he took to Cooperstown with his dad: "...what I'll remember most [about summer 2019] is that road trip up north with my dad to see Mariano Rivera and the rest of the amazing 2020 class of players get inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame: the sight of other friendly baseball pilgrims walking up the hill with us to the induction tent (including a great sportswriter who became a friend for the weekend); the sound of Bernie Williams' electric guitar playing the National Anthem; the feel of the bat in my hands as I swung at pitches at the batting range outside of Doubleday Field; the smell of smoky ballpark hot dogs and popcorn; the taste of hot pretzels with mustard and fresh-squeezed lemonade. These are experiences I'll never forget, especially since they happened with my dad by my side."
    Family time isn't always so happy-go-lucky, as Diana Stark Ekman, an American living in Sweden, reminded us: "My sister and I spent our summer preparing our parents' home for sale, after the death of our mother in April. Going through 56 years' worth of lives lived together, and the remaining five years when Mom was widowed, was bittersweet. So many memories, of when her five living kids and 17 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, were little, cookbooks and hand-written recipes, some with my grandmother's writing, and tons and tons of family genealogy. Most moving, I think, was finding the casts that had been put on our infant brother, John, before he died, and a hardly-used baby blanket that must have been his. Seeing this reminded me that we have no idea how long we'll live, but even those lives cut short have meaning for us."
    Like many of our readers, Ekman invoked the political turmoil and social conflict so evident in the United States, but offered perspective drawn from her parents' experience: "This isn't the first time our country has been through hard times- my mom saved newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s that documented many difficult moments in the US. Going through my parents' memorabilia and possessions was a good exercise to understand that life moves through cycles of good and bad times, happiness and grief, but with common sense and hard work, many people manage fine. I wish they were here, but celebrated with my siblings, throughout the summer, their lives and their love for us."
    "This summer was a gift to me," shared Bernie F. of Ellettsville, Indiana, "after being diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor with a mean survival time of 18 months, I was able to check off many of my checklist items. I have written an intimate book for my grandchildren, digitized all of our family videotapes, seen my oldest son have his second baby and secure a position in physics at Eastern Kentucky University. We also attended my other son's wonderful wedding at the University of Chicago. My wife and I are high school sweethearts and we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last December. I got up enough courage to fly to San Francisco a few weeks ago and had a really fun dinner with three of our high school buddies. Overall, I'm thankful I got the chance to do so many things and have a chance to say goodbye to my family."
    Summer was a time of struggle for many of you, financially and physically. Toni, who hails from the Midwest, explained: "I cannot afford a vacation. I spent my summer struggling to get by. Working in the yard and garden and staying close to pets and friends. Oh and I cried a lot over everything from the violence in our country...to the Amazon burning, etc... Too much greed, hate and fear." Jennefer Witter of New York City also "worked throughout my summer...taking it easy was not an option. What was surprising to me was how many people were grinding away as well -- August is no longer the sleepy summer month it was once." Some happier news: "I got engaged. While I was working like a fiend, I did not overlook my personal life. After all, at the end of the day, I won't remember the proposal I got out. What I will always remember is the joy in my fiance's eyes when I said 'Yes.'" Congratulations, Jennefer!
    Two strong women named Cindy shared stories of facing summer challenges with a message about health care. Cindy H. of Jackson, Michigan spent the summer recovering from open-heart surgery: "I was off work for 8 weeks so I had a lot of time to think and reflect. What I thought about most was how thankful I am that I have health insurance and won't pay a dime for my surgery. I am not bragging, believe me I am grateful beyond measure! Grateful that where I work I can take time off, be paid for it (100%) and not lose my position. I have been thinking about the millions of Americans who don't have health care and don't have a job that will pay them to recuperate. I can't even imagine coping with all the pain, disfigurement and emotion of this kind of major surgery and have to worry about how you are going to pay for everything, what will happen with your bills while you are recuperating, and after, what about your job?" Cindy Taapken of M