This year in Northern Ireland, for the first time in two decades, we have had a long, hot summer with people looking tanned, fit, and relaxed, as if the weather itself were pronouncing a benediction on a quite exceptional period of progress. More than two decades ago I recall, as a young reporter, that the term ''long, hot summer'' had a more sinister meaning as the country lurched into a quarter-century of violence. This year we have reveled in our long, hot summer, as the news media have produced headlines about water shortages and hose pipe bans which I thought I would never live to see again in a province where the ''normal'' headlines were so often about war. Not so long ago our television bulletins were filled with pictures of funeral after funeral crossing the landscape like a long dark snake of misery and despair. Today the bulletins have their ugly share of beatings, robberies, and violence. But there are also stories about the subjects that are part of ordinary people's daily lives, including their concern about jobs, prices, education, and the environment, as well as the touching little kindnesses of everyday folk. Tonight, for example, there was a television story about a woman in Belfast who finds foster homes for homeless kittens - a ''soft'' story in a hard world which would simply not have made the news here a year ago. Most revealing of all, my own mood on the anniversary of the cease-fires is not to remember the worst of the bad times or to record the complex events of politics that, somehow, have made this fragile peace and progress possible. Rather, I am just deeply grateful and cautiously hopeful, to the point where words seem both inadequate and unnecessary. As peace comes dropping slow, it is the silence of my gratitude that is perhaps the most eloquent testimony of all. When there are things you cannot totally explain, it is wiser simply to be thankful and to enjoy.