I love autumn. The colours seem late this year, as if Mother Nature can’t bear to let go of summer, wanting to extract every milligram of rest and relaxation from the season before she gets busy with the obligation of preparation, of readiness for a season that knocks us around a bit, sometimes more than a bit. As a child, autumn meant a fresh start, a marching off to school with great plans to achieve, which, more often than not, didn’t materialize. My scribblers in the early grades started out neat and tidy in September, but I struggled to sustain such order. My handwriting was schizophrenic and couldn’t be counted on to be neat on every page. In fact, up until grade five or six, my handwriting was downright messy and left my mother terribly disappointed and disgusted with my penmanship, that and my inability to tell time well past when we should have acquired such skills. But, it turns out, I’m very good at telling time now, with no hesitation whatsoever, and my handwriting is almost always precise and neat. It all came out in the wash.
From my perspective now, autumn is about exhaling and letting go. Spring used to be my favourite season, the time when play seemed to know no bounds and we could tear off jackets and kick off boots and feel the giddy freedom of a lighter load. Autumn is my time now – the cool nights chasing away the bugs, the shorter days, their slower pace assuring us there is no need to hurry now summer has gone. My father left me in the autumn, quickly and irrevocably, despite my wishing him back every day for years, and it has been forty-eight years now which is unbelievable in itself. So, melancholy used to occupy my autumns, but now it’s more of a happy reunion, one of gratitude. “Ahh, here you are again autumn, let’s sit and chat and catch up,” says my soul. “Tell me what you’ve been up to while I dust off my longing and put it back on the shelf.”
Maria Popova in her blog at www.themarginalian.org speaks of the positive side of longing, how it is the driving force behind our creativity, in our quest for answers in science, and in our search to find love itself. Visit her blog to read the entire piece entitled The Thing Itself: C.S. Lewis on What We Long For. Hers is a powerful statement about longing; a positive perspective for sure. I often, more often than I’d like, find myself in a state of homesickness, of longing for what was. But many of us in our remembering have deleted the struggles of childhood and are left with a distillation that resembles perfection. Perhaps that is what I do. Maria is correct that our longing swells the creativity within us; my pen can’t keep up when my heart is aching and it is what keeps me at my desk, hour after hour, the clarity of my thoughts sometimes surprising.
I enjoy the longing now. Enjoy might not be the right word. The right word seems more elusive now than it used to be. Maybe it is that longing and I have become familiar companions. We recognize each other and raise a hand in greeting, with a gentle nod of acceptance. As a child I longed for my own fort in the woods, a Peter Pan sort of fort, sliding down the inside of a hollowed-out tree to escape any bad guys, my Secret Sam spy kit at the ready. I didn’t have a Secret Sam spy kit, but I longed for one when I think I was supposed to be longing for more grown-up things. Just like popcorn, we all pop when we’re ready. I longed for a horse who could fly, and I eventually found one who could do just that, or what felt like flying.
My longing now is different, more of a gentle and welcome reminder than an ache. Someone said that we can’t feel grief if we didn’t love and what a shame it would be not to have loved. Autumn lets me savour the joyful parts of this journey, those I’ve clung to while letting the unjoyful parts fall away. The red and orange and yellow of the trees makes me feel alive in a way that no other season seems to. It’s a celebration of who we were, each autumn a reminder, while we let go of all that wasn’t and isn’t.