Coming Alive and the Changing Leaves
Woodmont Boulevard is my favorite street to drive down in Nashville when the leaves start changing in the fall. It’s a two-lane road and at the right time of day you can whisk right along it, going 40 mph and watching the sun dance through the half-golden tree branches. When I was in college I lived in an apartment complex off of Woodmont, and I would come up with just about any excuse I could think of to drive 20 minutes west to Target in order to get my fill of autumn.
I have about a thousand memories of fall tucked away in my back pocket—any one of them, if pulled out at the right time, would have me spiraling into a fit of nostalgia. Fall is a special time of the year. Even if you weren’t the first in line to grab a pumpkin spice latte on September 1st, I’m sure there is something in your spirit that this statement resonates with.
One of the reasons I harbor such a love affair with the changing season is because it seems to shake us awake out of our slumber. Our senses get dialed all the way up the moment the morning chill starts to escort the summer humidity out. Once the autumn candles begin making appearances on coffee tables and the local flower stands receive a shipment of freshly grown pumpkins, we are invited to step out of our routines and stare with childlike wonder at the scene of chilly, golden sunsets and vibrant colors unfolding around us. Changing seasons and new beginnings always ask us to check our complacency at the door.
Fall is the only new beginning I like. It isn’t hard for me to say goodbye to the sticky-bare-legs-on-leather-seats and 110 degree days of summer. I have my fall wardrobe unpacked before Labor Day weekend plans are on the calendar. But typically I am a fit thrower when it comes to beginnings. I cross my arms and stomp my feet and pout until I am long past the starting line of something new. The last year of my life has felt like an endless stream of new beginnings and I have been in a perpetual state of whiny brat. I don’t know how to relate beginnings to the whole caterpillar cocooning into a butterfly thing—they feel more like being violently dragged out of the familiar and thrown into the panic-inducing depths of the unknown.
Most recently on my Tour de Early Twenties, I had to say goodbye to a camp in British Columbia that I worked at for a month this summer. I fell in love with the tall evergreens and the people and the way the ocean turned in on itself during high tide, and I threw a raging fit when I had to leave. There was an array of new beginnings waiting for me back in Nashville, all wrapped up in shiny paper waiting to be opened, but I was too busy being caught up in what was ending. The new job and new apartment and new season had nothing to offer me that would make up for having to leave the camp that so quickly became home. This tension, the tension of leaving the camp and returning home, the tension we face when something ends and something new starts, reminds me of a random quote I found on Pinterest and saved to my desktop in my lifelong quest to be inspirational.
“You always have to have some breakdown to have a breakthrough…It goes all the way back to birth. The baby’s not comfortable when it leaves its comfort space, and it’s being pushed through violent contractions to who-knows-where. So I sorta developed that into my own saying: ‘Birth always looks like death from the other side.’”
As the weather started to drop last week in Nashville and I could finally justify my favorite plaid scarf, I started to think about all the death that occurs in fall. Leaves detaching from tree branches, life being choked out of the spring blooms by morning frost, the ending of pool days. Sure, there is newness and luster and, Lord knows, joy, but it is not a new beginning that is void of loss. It can only wake us up and call us back to life because it is marked by a change, and change will always carry with it a sense of ending.
My counselor would say something about needing to mourn the loss. It is in our human nature to not be totally okay when you leave a city or friends or experience an earth-shaking life change, and we need to honor ourselves enough to be kind in the midst of that. A lot of me wants to rebel against that. A lot of me wants this post to be about being able to be completely happy and thankful for new beginnings and seamlessly adapting the caterpillar to butterfly metaphor. But what I have been wondering this week is if I can just celebrate the fact that new beginnings and hard endings invite us to acknowledge our complacency and choose something better for ourselves. In all of it—in our mourning and excitement and stopping to stare at the changing leaves—we become more human; we become more alive.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]