Something happens to the air. It becomes sharp and crisp and delightful. Even the old metaphors seem new and important — walking through September sunshine with a cool wind on your face and a few early leaves falling about you is like biting into a crisp September apple. There is nothing fuzzy, hazy or indistinct about September air. It is precise and glorious.
My mind turns to poetry in September. This would work better if I knew more autumn poetry, but September seems like a time when words themselves carry more meaning. September is when you set your hand to a big task, unafraid of the toil in front of you. September is for realizing that the world is a strange and marvelous place. In autumn, the boundaries between what was, what is and what shall be blur, and you realize you are not so far removed from either your ancestors or descendants.
In the church liturgical calendar, the year is broken up into seasons. You may be familiar with Advent — the four weeks of waiting before Christmas (purple), with Christmas itself (12 days – white), with the long preparation of Lent (purple again), the joyfulness of Easter (white again), and the flash of color for one magic-filled day on Pentecost (red). The rest of the time is called Ordinary Time. The color for Ordinary Time is green. I love the idea of Ordinary time, because it so perfectly expresses for me what much of the year is like.
For me, January through September is Ordinary Time, where the days are those days and nothing more. The weather is good or bad. The world is lovely or not. I always feel as though spring SHOULD feel more potent. Instead, it’s a relief like taking off your high heels after walking all evening. It’s a wonderful feeling, but there is nothing of magic to it.
September through December, though, is Extraordinary time. The time in those months feels special and set apart, even more of a precious commodity than time usually is. Where the time the rest of the year is water running through our fingers, this time is quicksilver — even lovelier in its passing. I am deeply enamored of the beauty of the beginning of the turn, in September. I love October for the fullness of autumn that is in it. I love November for the contrast between the warmth of what is inside and the coolness of what is out, and for the grace with which it accepts the passing of what is living. And December for me is overlain with the brocade of music, joy, love, friendship, color and contrast that is truly Christmas.
Before I moved to New England, I already loved fall and Christmas best. But I didn’t understand the bitterness and fear that could accompany winter. I was like a child, enjoying life but knowing nothing of mortality. In New England, winter strips the joy from life. It steals your breath with icy winds. The world stays dark and cold and barren far too long and you wonder how you can endure it. Sometimes despair arrives and it feels as though you will never be warm or joyful again. Against that fear, this season apart becomes even deeper in its meaning. You must find a way to rejoice in the falling of the leaves without letting your cup be embittered by the gall of the winter to come. You must watch that first snowfall hopefully around Christmas without thinking how you may not see that patch of ground again until May. You must take the joy of the dying of the year without accepting before-time the sting of the long dead period.
I understand now how it is possible to truly dread winter. I understand how you might dread fall as the precursor to winter. But I choose, instead, to revel and rejoice in this time apart. I will bring new life into the world just as the door shuts on the year. I will not let the fear of future cold diminish the joy of the present.
And next year, around this time, I will probably say nearly the same thing again.