When I was growing up every child in school counted down the days to summer vacation. At summer’s end, we took up our busy lives once more, starting a new school year, a new chance at learning and relationships. Even today, it sometimes seems like September is the “start” of the year in a weird way.
But the nostalgia for summer lay within us, ever-present and growing as the school year went by. Everyone saw summer as a carefree time, a time of exploration and growth, of lazy days and baseball games in dusty fields, of trips to the beach and jumprope, games of tag and uproarious runs through the sprinkler. Summer was freedom. It felt like time itself had stopped. At its beginning, when the whole summer stretched ahead, it seemed it would last forever.
Of course, it didn’t. The fall would come round again, and trips to the store for new clothes, school shoes, and “sneaks,” would signal the inevitable evolution to autumn once more. Then, spiral notebooks and NEW crayons in hand, school would begin and renew the cycle, fall, winter, spring….summer.
I don’t know when this began to change for me. I am sure it was an evolving process.
In our early married years, my husband ran a church camp in the summer, so that kept the sense of seasonal cycle intact for me while our kids were small. When they started school, I went back to teaching and I had the same summer vacations they did. So there still were lazy days, splashing in our blow-up pool and going to Green Lakes, camping trips, and singing round the campfire.
Best of all were family vacations to Cape Cod which we always scheduled near the end of summer, the last of August into Labor Day. Year after year, we walked Harbor Beach in East Dennis, Dad’s Beach to us, played in the waves, picked up hermit crabs, and sang to the snails in the tide pools. The timelessness of ocean, sand, and shore seeped into our souls whispering of peace while we picked up shells and bits of beach glass, or sat reading and listening to the sounds of the surf, the heartbeat of the tide.
And the end of each day there was blessed by the descent of the sun on the water. It felt inevitable and simultaneously impossible that the red fiery ball poised on the horizon would leave us. As we watched, almost holding our breath, every second a lifetime, we touched eternity as the colors, yellow to orange and scarlet, flared as the sun set. Then, more poignant, the light softened and blue became lavender and transmuted to indigo, slowly spreading across the sky, glistening on the sheen of the water on the shore, light caught on the receding edge of each wave.
Every year as we crossed the Cape Cod Canal to leave, a piece of my heart remained behind that would only come alive again the next summer when we returned and recrossed it once more. So, let there be no doubt that I have embraced summer with the same passion that heats us as we lie in the sand soaking up the sun’s warmth.
But slowly, I don’t know exactly when, the fall began to win me over. Perhaps it has to do with entering the autumn of my own life, I know that has at least strengthened the feeling. Yet, I’d rather think it started when I began to notice that the light in the fall fell with a golden grace.
While we lived in Syracuse, my husband would pick me up from work on sunny autumn days. Lunch in hand, we would drive out to ‘see the leaves.’ Sometimes we talked or pointed out the particularly brilliant tree. Other times, we rode in silence as the light broke through the slanted shadows and flickered on the windshield. Always, we were awestruck by nature’s magnificence shown in trees which glowed as if lit from inside, even on cloudy days.
At some point, the way the shadows were cast at an angle, the way the light glanced off the leaves, began to equal the change to autumn for me. Scientists call the change in the angle of light as it intersects a medium, refraction. In the fall, the changed angle of the earth’s axis causes the light to reach us in a new way.
That sense of the newness of light, the renewal of a season that starts with the same red and orange glory of the sunset, is a metaphor for me of the change in perspective that comes in the autumn of our lives. They are part and parcel of the harvest of our summers. The children born to us, and raised through our summer, have entered adulthood and their own summer season. The harvest for us, four grandchildren, makes all things new. They help us see life through the unfolding of their spring, filtered through our memories of their parent’s childhood, refracted in new and wonderful ways through the new perspectives they bring.
Marianne Williamson said, “We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
In the fall of our lives we shine differently, less harsh than the beat of the summer’s sun, more softly reflecting the lessons learned through our lifetimes, sparkling with the joy of the renewal of new children, new joys, changed opportunities. The quality of the autumn light, like the quality of mercy, falls gently, bringing benison and blessing.