September. The start of something new. As a teacher, the freshness of the impending school year, crisp with possibility and potential, is something I have always adored. The first clean page of the brand new teacher planner – a chance to set a new tone, establish new habits and become a fresh incarnation of my former self.
In the real world, that of nature and life, where the meteorological autumn is paving the way for its astrological twin a full three weeks later, newness and opportunity are not immediately apparent. They are signified instead by death and endings. The verdant lushness of summer is slowly replaced with a burnt orange of decay and a golden tinge of nature heaving its last outward sigh before retreating inward to hibernate for the winter months. At first glance, this seems such a sad process. I have historically never been in love with autumn, always despairing at the loss it embodies – of leaf, of life, of light – and overwhelmed by a fear of permanence in the impending shutdown. But this year, I am beginning to see this season for what it really is – a chance of a fresh start. The shedding of what no longer serves is sad but necessary, in order to allow for energies to be replenished instead of wasted on the futility of trying to sustain something that needs to be shed. The important structures remain in place – it is only the peripheral appendages that are lost, discarded. As the leaves fall to the ground, making room for the now distant promise of blossom and green shoots next spring, the branches, trunk and nutrient-rich soil remain faithfully in place. Only that which is not needed is lost. What remains are the building blocks, the enabling forces, of renewal.
As it is with the trees in autumn, so it is with life at times of change. Old habits are re-evaluated. Those which no longer serve – whilst they may have been something beautiful in their own season – are recognised as the energy drains that they have now become and are shed. As the leaves fall to the ground, and the tenets of a life that has become normality are held up to fresh scrutiny, this inevitably feels like a period of loss. But this loss is not only temporary, it is, more imprtantly, a necessary and essential part of the process of beginning again.
As we rebuild a life after loss, the sense that we are starting from scratch is sometimes unshakeable. And if we were to foolishly begin by scraping up the dying, brittle leaves from the forest floor, it would feel not only wasteful but impossible. Instead, we should look within, to the longstanding, solid structures of the lives and characters we have taken years to form. This is where the solid base of our own priorities can be found. Not in the mourning of the privation of last year’s leaves, but in gratitude for the endurance of the trunks, the roots, the branches, which have long supported us and which, through the cold winter of reenergising which follows, will sustain us once more.
Happy September. May your leaves fall away and your roots hold firm.