September 2014

I have a thing for seasons.

In college, I had this brilliant idea to some day start a restaurant and call it Seasons, where we would only serve seasonal food. So ahead of the curve, me.

At the beginning of every season, I declare a new style theme for the next three months. This fall is looking to be very Punk Rock Czarina. You know, Romanovs in leather.

One time I was working at an oppressive law firm and it felt like this unending string of meaningless days. I had only been working there a few weeks, but it felt like I had signed my life away to this job and nothing would ever change. My best friend told me, so compassionately, "This isn't your whole life. This is a season in your life. In a couple years, we'll say 'Remember that weird time you worked at a law firm?'"

It's totally true. It was a brief, informative season that ended up having much more significance than I could have predicted, but I forget to add it to my resume.

I have a special attachment to fall but I don't have a favorite season. I just love it when they change.

The spring-to-summer transition is an easy one to ignore, and the fall-to-winter transition takes place the very minute Santa Claus comes floating by at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. BAM! Season: changed.

But the end of summer is slower. This time of year is precious to everyone. It belongs to the soft cotton part of your heart that never ages past 10 years old. You can smell it. It smells like fresh pencil shavings and cinnamon.

Let's be real about this though: Fall is a grieving period. It's beautiful and magical and has its own dress code, but it's a season all about loss. Even if you're not sad to see summer go, fall is still heartbreaking, especially when rain sings through empty branches and leaves litter the ground looking like dusty garnets, waiting to be stuffed in black trash bags.

I'm about to turn 28. I've been thinking a lot about this waning decade and what I've learned from it. When I began my 20s, a friend in her 30s told me that this was my time to explore. I had a whole ten years just to grow and experiment and push my limits. "If you fall," she said, "That's a great sign. It means you found your edge. You tried something that didn't work; now you know."

She helped me realize that there were a million things I wanted to experience in this terribly short life, and that none of them would happen if I followed a single highway. The things I wanted were the sort of things that you find only on the side roads off of side roads.

This insight has guided me. I've tried jobs I didn't think I'd be any good at, and ended up learning gobs about my interests and abilities. I've dated people I didn't think would be good for me, and they're still some of my best friends. I've moved to cities I didn't think fit my personality, and now, for the first time in my life, I'm home.

Some of my most significant relationships lasted for two weeks. Some of my favorite jobs were just transitions between "real" jobs.

But it was hard at times when I was anxious to feel more settled, to have it figured out, to stop learning lessons and just reap the benefits of lessons learned. The most helpful way to get over this anxiety was to think about my life as a collection of seasons, rather than steps. It's tempting at this age to carry around a mental checklist of Things an Adult Should Have, and a monthly report card with markings for each Life Category.

There were so very many times I felt like I was just sitting around waiting. There were so many times I was just meandering around with a heavy heart, mourning the loss of a happier season without any idea what would come next and when.

I can see now that those were the seasons of loss--my own personal autumns--and they were some of the most important.

Life has seasons that mimic the earth's seasons: times of abundance, times of cultivation. Fall is a season of loss, but, unlike winter, it shows you upfront what you're losing. That's what makes it so sweet in its melancholy. You are actually watching summer slip away as a new world takes over. You're a front-lines witness to the ultimate triumph of winter, conquering summer degree by degree, until one evening at 5pm, you watch the night swallow up the afternoon light in a sudden coup.

I once heard an interview with a guy whose father died at the height of his personal success. He was really close with his dad, and spent the next couple years in a tense combination of obligatory gratitude and overwhelming sadness.

When asked to describe loss, this guy said that it was like having the casino cashier gone. He compared everything that happened to him--any happiness, any difficulty, any mundanity--to a poker chip, and his father would validate those experiences like a cashier, making them worth something. His father turned every one of the man's moments into something meaningful, just by listening to his stories.

After his father died, the man said he was sitting among piles and piles of worthless poker chips.

The man was dwelling in loss. He was sitting right in it, running his fingers through it. He could touch his loss; he was a witness to his own grief.

It's really, really hard to sit with loss. I haven't dealt with it in a significant way, and it's still really hard. It takes so much effort to resist numbing oneself from it and skipping quickly to the next season. It's even hard to watch someone else sit in it; hearing someone say "I'm hurting" calls for immediate action.

Today is absolutely gorgeous, the platonic ideal of an east coast September morning. The sky is crystalline blue. It's cold enough to wear a scarf and tights, with a new buttery-soft heavy leather jacket that smells like James Dean and vetiver.

This September, I'm dwelling in both Actual Fall and Life Fall, seasons of loss. I'm trying to learn from the calendar season to make sense of the life season. It's not an easy one. It's also not my whole life; it's a season of my life. And there is a ton of beauty in it.

There are good friends, with whom I enjoy the last bit of summer on a turquoise rooftop, laughing til we get six-pack abs about the funny people sitting around us. There are cognac-colored boots and soft gingham dresses--I never feel more myself than when I'm wearing a cozy fall outfit. There are large French press coffee pots, an upcoming trip just to see the coast's most glittering foliage, cider under neon signs at the bar next door, and birthday plans on the Hudson River.

The seasons add up, especially the tough ones, especially the meaningless ones. As I begin to slip out of this decade, I am more and more thankful for all the seasons that make up a life.