For me, autumn has always been a time of reflection, gearing up for the reality of the winter ahead and closing the book on another year. The changing colors of the leaves has always been more symbolic of the passage of time than my actual birthday or New Year’s. I become the tree that sits on my front lawn – its lush crown of summer beauty soon to be a bare memory.
We run through our days in the Wisconsin summer, celebrating our glory with skin bared and hair flying behind us through our open-windowed cars. We live free, feeling like those months will last forever. Of course, they don’t.
September is the end of days filled with hours of my children who are directly within my reach. It always feel like letting go. Fall feels like that sudden sharp blast of cold air that curtails an evening walk. It's a none too subtle shift from feeling perfect and eternal to an acceptance of the ordinary and finite.
Each leaf that hits the ground sounds like the second hand ticking on a clock, and I’m suddenly faced with the ordinariness of everything about me. Where only a few weeks ago, I was the super woman of summer, with an easy laugh for a houseful that needed me, I will soon shed this disguise and return to a more mortal me. What summer fools you into thinking you are slowly clears away, as the days become shorter and the sunlight weaker.
The summer breeze always whispered to me, saying I can write so well that people reading my words feel my ache; that I can dance a barefoot dance so exquisite that to those watching, the sound of the music falls away; that I can sing in the clearest bell of a voice that those listening are left unable to move and can only sit, enraptured, not wanting one thing more.
But with autumn's chill, my life looks back at me and says that I’m just an ordinary woman who stays home with her children. There's no book with my name on its cover, no dance danced to the point of leaving others in shattered silence, no song sung leaving others breathless. Autumn reminds me, no matter how poetically written, or eloquently delivered, the account of my life is that of an ordinary woman.
Until I look at my children. And there I hear the song I sang, there I see the dance I danced, there, in them, is the book I've written. When I look into their eyes, there is no skin or bone that separates us.
When I catch their faces, turned at such an angle, for a split second time stops, and I see the ghost of my face in theirs. After 50 summers, I've learned something. And after 50 autumns, things suddenly look different. The fall winds that once wrapped around me, hissing "Ordinary, ordinary," now have me crossing my arms, standing firm against the chill, and replying, "Am I? Am I really? Can you not see what is here, around me?"