Clearing the Way for Clouds
Fall has always felt like the start of a new year to me. The curly petals of wood shavings scattered beside a row of sharpened pencils; the stiff snap, open, of a brand new three ring binder; the fresh scent of white lined paper released from its plastic wrapped bondage. The new dreams and the worries too, still waiting to be written on all those clean pages.
My children are no longer heading down the street and off to school, but I watch my neighbors, scurrying along the sidewalk, scanning their phones, packs bending their backs, and they feel like a beginning, too.
To me, the “real” new year has always been more of a tired, can we pretend its midnight at 10pm and go to bed now, experience that only always managed to open the door to yet another long gray winter. But come September…the calendar inside my head flips, and I shift lanes, surrounded by fiery color and the sweet and sour scent of apples carried on the brittle backs of falling leaves. I sit in the corner of my front porch, where the sun settles each afternoon, a shrinking square of warmth that feels all the more comforting because it is now so fleeting. This time of year reminds us of what we leave behind, in order to begin again.
My mother used to get sad and sentimental when autumn arrived. She said that even though we were well past school age, she still felt that same pinprick of longing. She was one of those moms who liked us around all summer long, banging the screen door as we ran in for a snack, and back out into the street, where we played until she came out onto the front porch and yelled for us to come home for dinner. Yes, that really happened. Her presence was permanent. Because of that presence, I felt my own apprehension at the start of each school year, as she wove red yarn through my braids and bent to tie my brand-new shoes; as I wondered what this new beginning would feel like, away from her. By the time the afternoon bell rang, and I walked home, she was sitting at the kitchen table waiting, a shaft of sunlight illuminating her hands, as they cleared the way for me to lay down my worries.
My daughter stopped by in between her graduate school classes just last week, and as I looked into her deep blue eyes, I saw the same distress and worry that I saw every year about this time, when she was a younger and even less willing student. We snuggled on the couch, her and I, and as I held this smart, capable young woman, I was transported back into the gangly arms of all those old worries, hers and my own.
And the oldest, recurring worry, surfaced again: Am I capable of all this new year will ask of me? Can I step over all of my own memories in order to meet my family where they are now?
Less expectation, more wisdom: that’s what this time of year really offers us all. It’s the ripe peach hanging off the stem, waiting to be plucked; the sweet, dripping juice that leaves us full and satisfied.
This time of year challenges us to root down into the ground just a bit more, to gather up just a little more; like the leaves our children scooped up and piled high, only to flop backwards without hesitation, into that soft pillow of self-trust. All the better to see the endless ocean sky overhead, the clouds like ghost ships, sailing by... the parade of possibility.
My mother-in-law, 94 years-old now, was tucked into a chair on her screen porch just last week, a blanket under her chin, the sky and the mirrored lake laid out before her. And, despite how narrow her aged life has become, she was still delighting in the mystery of those clouds, and the imagination within her that could still shape them: white cotton elephants marching across the blue terrain, their baby calves tucked behind, and weaving forward. All of us, toward something new.