It always happens at this time of year, when the treetops are singed with licks of crimson red and luscious orange, that I feel oddly tranquil. Students, upswept in a maelstrom of midterms and responsibility, don’t notice autumn creeping up to drench their landscape in the vibrant palette of a Thanksgiving cornucopia. Although nature is on the brink of hibernation, preparing to suspend all life beneath a frozen exterior, the preceding phenomenon creates an illusion of vitality—as if the treetops exude one last breath of vivaciousness, pushing through the leaves’ bland-green chlorophyll to create a breathtaking spectacle of fiery color.
Autumns evoke endings. As brittle leaves piece away from their hulking oaks and cedars, carpeting the soil with crisp and shriveled flakes of auburn, so too do the pages of our calendars lose their store-bought sheen and novelty. Skimming over the pages of 2009 is nostalgic, but also provides a humbling (if not shocking) dose of reality. It’s one thing to note the abruptness of a passing week or month. When we flip through the pages of our calendar books, however, and are shocked by the distant dates of all seemingly recent occasions, the question exerted is more anxiety-inducing with every passing year: “Where did time go, anyway?”
But for whatever reason—perhaps because, as a student, my (skewed) notion of reality revolves around a socially constructed “academic year”—autumn also evokes beginnings. I get dizzy thinking about the cyclic pattern of seasons past—winter is always cold, stressful and seemingly endless; spring is rejuvenating, like waking up from an extended sleep; summer is full of energy and frantic attempts to capture excitement within three months of freedom; and then all of a sudden it’s late September. The weather becomes freakish and unpredictable with snow one day and an Indian summer the next. This causes distress for the wardrobe-savvy, and for individuals who don’t adjust well to temperature change. Mothers start insisting upon “layers.” We deny that the looming weather is too cold for flip-flops, and admit defeat when we finally buy warm jackets to stave off that blasted wind chill factor.
Midterms arrive and provide an unpleasant glimpse at the hell that’s yet to come. We get so upswept in the tumult of classes and work that we fail to notice the falling temperatures, until one nasty morning walk to class gives us a breath of fresh, cold, lung-chilling air. But at that point it’s too late. We were too busy being busy to notice or care about the season change. When all of New England was transforming itself into a brilliant spectacle of red and orange tie-dye, we were catching up on “Dancing With the Stars.” Then one season change and three season finales later, another year has gone by. Another cycle has slipped through our fingers; another calendar has been tossed in the trash.
Too often school and work become the primary focuses of our lives. We get so fixated on these things that meanwhile we forget to actually live. We do not have any control over the weather or the change of seasons, but we are privileged to be able to take our lives into our hands and influence the course of the future. Sometimes it is necessary to suspend our realities in order to be able to follow our dreams. That way, when someday we ask ourselves where all the time had gone, we’ll at least have a good answer.