There is a quote that I have always loved. It was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, and I always think of it during mid-October, on the days when I try to rationalize not wearing a coat and then wish that I had decided to bring it along:
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
I have always loved the fall season. This may have started with my passion for new school supplies – untouched notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils – and I would imagine that it developed further when I reached the age where fall also meant new riding boots, trips with friends to go apple picking, and long drives through the changing foliage. I’ve had the good fortune to live in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and now, North Carolina. Fall is deeply engrained in me; Northeastern seasons seem as much a part of life as bedtime or my birthday. Even here, “down South,” the leaves are beginning to change colors. The breeze is no longer warm and languid, but brisk and chilly. Walking our puppy requires a sweatshirt and closed-toed shoes. Yesterday, I dropped off three coats at the dry cleaner and was told that they’d be ready very soon because “it’s time for a warm coat.”
I’m thrilled that it’s time for a coat, that autumn is in full swing. There is something special about the fall. It is a chilly respite from the relentless heat of summer and it is undeniably the most gorgeous of seasons, with even a short drive to the store turning into a photo opportunity. Every tree displays itself like a peacock, preening and posing in an effort to outdo the rich displays of its neighbors. It is the botanical version of keeping up with the Jones’, though much more palatable to watch. But unlike spring, where the relief from the cold turns to lush, feral growth, fall gives way to a grueling cycle of snow and of cold. Were it not for the clever punctuation of holidays focused on the warmth of family and friends, the winter season might be wholly unbearable; fall is then, in some ways, a harbinger of gloom.
And so it is interesting that it should feel as though life has begun again in the fall. One might easily say that life is just about to wind down, to freeze over. That fall is sunset, then dusk; the difficult knowledge that what is so bright and beautiful will pass too soon. But instead, fall, with its melancholy beauty, its pre-frost swansong, snaps us out of the laze and lethargy of hot summer days. It sends us back into the classroom, necessitates socks, and shoes with laces, calls for warm drinks and, yes, new notebooks.
Fall requires an element of grit from each of us. It requires the pluck and wherewithal to shake off the sand and salt air of the previous season in order to prepare ourselves for the coming trip around the sun. Fall is both potential and preservation. It requires scarves and gloves, the padding of jackets, but more than that, it requires the padding of spirit. In exchange for this, it provides beauty and perfect Saturdays, pumpkin lattes and Thanksgiving.
The thing is, just like fall, every day – each morning – requires something of us. Each day requires grit and fortitude and the tenacity to begin again.
Life starts all over again in the fall, but it starts all over again every morning, too. Every day rewards us with beauty in return for our willingness to rise to the challenge. The trick is to see the beauty through the chaos or confusion of the day, to allow ourselves to be governed, not by the loss of what was or the fear of what is to come, but the perfect knowledge that we are, as we should be, in season.
*This essay was inspired by an open letter that I wrote to the students in my Fall 2012 Positive Psychology course at Johns Hopkins University. Thank you to them, and to all of my students, for being a year-round inspiration.