Fall has officially come, with its bright colors, unpredictable temperatures, and feeling of being just on the cusp of something. I’m not sure what it is about this season, but even when I was a child, there was a certain feeling in my chest that manifested by mid-September or early October. The sensation of being on the verge of a big change, or some excitement. It feels intangible but undeniable, like holding my breath. In my head, I’ve started calling it The Season of Almost.
It’s almost winter, just barely the end of summer. It’s almost Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. It’s almost boot weather, sweater weather. It’s the birth of new things— graduate school, for instance. It feels fraught with possibilities and the possibilities mean there’s also the chance of failure. It makes me think of movies like The American President or You’ve Got Mail or shows like Gilmore Girls. These are the ones I would watch with my mother while we made chicken quesadillas and curled under blankets when I was homeschooled, after my lessons for the day were over. Her absence feels more tangible this time of year than any other, though I’m not sure why.
There is a sadness this time of year that chases me. I try to avoid it, outrun it, distract myself from it, but it manages to cling to me like a shadow. Sometimes the light makes it longer or shorter, but in some form or fashion, the shadow remains. I wonder if it’s like this for everyone, or if there is just a brokenness in me that will never heal over. I wonder if I was like this before the last few years— the deaths, the career changes— or if this is merely the evidence of stones I have picked up along the way and placed in my pockets to carry with me, believing that my life is too sheltered, too blessed, and so I must carry them as penance.
This summer while looking out the window of our vacation spot on the marsh, I saw the trees and the blue water and the crisp demarcation where sea met sky, but my eye was drawn to none of these things so much as it was drawn to the marsh grass where I imagine hidden snakes slithering, turtle and bird’s eggs waiting to be devoured by them. Alligators creeping on stumpy legs with teeth sharp and ever-ready to attack. Why must my eyes be on constant alert for the slightest hint of danger?
I’ve been grieving, I know, for a long time. In my mind I have tried and failed to escape it. I have played out dozens of scenarios to go back into the past and re-write history, or to avoid the pain. I have tried to manipulate facts and data in my mind so that I can change, if not the outcome, at least my reaction to it, and every time I come up short. Every time I reach the same conclusion. That sometimes you just have to let it hurt for a while. That sometimes this is the only way through.
I have come through many things at this point. Once My Crazy Lady told me that I was in a crucible, burning out the impurities as gold floated to the top. The time in the crucible, thankfully, has abated, and I have come out stronger than before. But still I chase contentment, and still the shadows chase me. “It’s not a level to be reached permanently,” My Crazy Lady says. “You take one day at a time. But there is nowhere that you finally reach when you’ve conquered all of your obstacles that will be free of struggle. Life is struggle. Struggle is part of living.”
I thought about the trees that my mother loved so much. How they were planted in one place, standing strong, roots pushing through darkness, dampness, sometimes fighting, sometimes meandering, always twisting and turning, always giving life. Establishing home. The elements shift from blistering sunlight to rain to gentle breezes, and then the seasons change again. Fall comes, and with it the trees change. They adapt to their environments. The leaves fade from green to yellow, or erupt in bright red or shades of orange reminiscent of sunset. They hold on until they can’t anymore, and then, regardless of the tree’s wishes, they let go. And in their temporary absence, the tree casts a different shadow.