Fall: mastering the possibilities

Fall is my favorite time of year.  It always has been.  Spring is beautiful and exciting — for nature.  As a spectator, it’s one of the finest shows our world has to offer.  But it’s fall that is the season of possibilities for people.

Fall is when the harvest is in and people start focusing on themselves, rather than the land’s demands.  We see this in the fact that, all over the Western world, school starts in the fall.  I know that I was always excited when the new school year started.  Summer’s pleasures had long since waned, with my delight in its freedoms having been overtaken by the stresses of dealing with a completely unstructured life.  We children were bored and overwrought.

The school year meant new clothes, thanks to the back-to-school sales.  It meant spanking new school supplies, including fresh new Pee Chee folders.  My delight in the new school year wasn’t solely mercenary, though.  I always felt as if I was opening a gift box.  I knew what would be in it — students and teachers — but I didn’t know the specifics.  Every year I was certain that this year would be the perfect social year.  This year would be the year I got a boyfriend.  This year would be the year I’d finally understand math.  This year would be the year when my teachers would dazzle me and I would dazzle them right back.  Showing that hope springs eternal, even though each school year was a disappointment (not a terrible disappointment, but still a disappointment), each fall I’d be back to feeling that same old thrill as I stood on the cusp of a new school year.

The American political scene also reflects this time of fall renewal.  Because America was a rural country, our federal election cycle really gets running when the harvest is in.  The agrarian calendar said that this is the time when people can read and think about the issues that are most important to them.   Certainly for me, a lifelong bookworm, fall is a wonderful time for contemplation.  The days draw in early, the air is chilly and, if you’re lucky, a fire crackles in your fireplace.  All that’s needed is a book, newspaper, or magazine, and perhaps a warm dog and a cup of hot chocolate. Then, you’re ready to take on the heavy intellectual tasks you avoided during the long, summer days, with their endless enticements for outdoor activities.

I am not sufficiently conversant with Jewish history to know why the Jews placed their new year in the fall, right around the time of the fall equinox.  All I know is that, for 5,773 years, Jews have seen this season as a time, not of endings, but of beginnings.  To me, it certainly seems like a more natural time for a new year than a day buried halfway through the dead of winter.

Tonight is Erev Yom Kippur, the evening before the Jewish day of atonement (which follows swiftly on the heels of Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year).  Yom Kippur is the holiest of holy days in the Jewish calendar.  On this day, Jews the world over take an honest look at themselves, judging their behavior against the standards G*d has set for them.  It’s a solemn day, but it too is part of fall’s renewal.  We cannot move forward into the new year if our souls are weighed down by our sins and our minds darkened by our inability to repent and change.

I am not in school any more, and I am not a religious Jew.  Nevertheless, I still carry within me the optimism and hope that I feel every fall.  This feeling buoys me as I look at the world situation, which is scary, and I look at our American president, who is scary.  I feel as if we are reaching a crisis, and that’s scary too.  But crises can be cathartic, and the timing on this one is peculiarly good because Americans in this wonderful fall season are being given the chance to examine their past decisions, repent of them, and beginning something fresh and new.