Ever since elementary school, I’ve had mixed feelings about summer—mostly the end of it. Sure, I was excited to see friends whom I hadn’t seen since June and I felt the perennial anticipation (and anxiety) of being assigned to new classes and teachers, taking on bigger challenges and experiences. But it all went too fast. And it still does.
It would be great if we could recognize nature’s true summer, which officially continues through the autumnal equinox in late September—especially since the cooler weather can be spectacular, the perfect time to savor a more relaxed vacation.
Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.
These days, the starter’s gun for the September-to-December race goes off before Labor Day, with fall sports already having geared up in August. Halloween promotions promptly appear in stores, and right after Halloween, holiday decorations start going up, eclipsing the traditional Black Friday as we make the final sprint to Christmas.
And boom. On to the New Year.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that I’ve been feeling something else in the fall: a sense of melancholy. The days are getting shorter, and inevitably, so are mine. Symbolically, autumn represents the transition to the last quarter of my life. Like many of us, I wonder, “What the hell happened to the time?” Life is fleeting, and paradoxically, time seems to accelerate with age.
But I’m not about to slip into a winter of discontent. That’s because I’ve come to understand something else over the years, that this autumnal shift is just one more of my life’s big transitions. Like marriage; moving to a new home; changing careers; becoming a parent, then letting go of parenting; and retirement—sort of. And like all major transitions, they create a complicated blend of feelings: stress, anxiety and vulnerability; but also, a sense of personal fulfillment, unexpected growth and self-knowledge.
There’s no question that the pandemic has heightened our sensitivity to the potential for sudden change and trauma. A simple internet search will turn up loads of advice from experts on how to cope with stress, anxiety, loss and change—as well as how to manage major life transitions. Tips like:
- Accept that change is a normal part of life
- Turn to your support network
- Expect to feel uncomfortable
- Acknowledge what’s been left behind
- Use a transition to reflect on where your life has been, and where it’s going
Helpful tips, to be sure, but for me, dealing with transition in the autumn of life comes down to one simple instruction: Don’t hurry. Take the time to appreciate each transitional day, watching the marvel of fall foliage turning yellow and gold, red and orange, and these other tips will follow.
I’ll pause, especially, to honor the equinox—the perfect balance of daylight and darkness—as the seasons change. Why not? The equinox has been celebrated by many cultures since ancient days. It’s worth a few moments of quiet reflection in contemporary life.
In the end, Christmas will still be there.