Friday, September 30, 2011
Have you noticed too? Can you feel it? Are you as excited as I am? After the wait of nine months for its rebirth, autumn is back. The real weather for football is here. The heat has abated, there’s a nip in the air, spiders are extruding blankets of webbing, and if you look up into the trees, here and there you see a bit of fall color beginning. Like so many of you, autumn is my favorite season. Time to clean up the detritus of summer – those only semi-successful tomato plants, for example – and to move on to the planting of crocus, bluebells, tulips and daffodils: the dreams of spring.
And yet, for all of its splendor and promise, this year I’m feeling uncharacteristically blue in this season of orange and red and gold. There’s death all around, and not just in the garden. (Death in the Garden: sounds like a great mystery, doesn’t it? In fact, it is: both as a 1956 French film and a 1995 Elizabeth Ironside novel: clearly a title too good to let go.) But, more recently and more reality-based, three smart, nice, caring women with whom I spent time working in organizations have preceded me to the great beyond—two on the same day. My morning reading of the obituaries is becoming more than just news-gathering. It’s becoming a test of courage; a walk into the land of Dorothy Parker’s “What fresh hell is this?” As someone cruising toward my Biblical allotment of years, I’m feeling the squeeze of time, and this season of endings isn’t easing my dis-ease.
These recent blows have been supplemented with a glass-half-empty wait for the death of Christopher Hitchens. His illness and presumed-by-everyone-to-be-his-last-book, Arguably, an almost 800-page collection of his essays, is a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop moment if ever there was one. Agree with him or disagree with him, love him or hate him, the man unquestionably is whip smart, quite a writer, a consumer of strong drink in the Damon Runyon mold, and a world-class pot-stirrer: all admirable qualities to my way of thinking. Born British, but naturalized into dual citizenship as a U.S. citizen, Hitchens gives copious examples of his intellect and writing skill through his thoughtful yet opinionated essays, reviews, and books. The drinking is legend, and you may remember both his celebrated swing from liberal to conservative and his God is Not Great book and debate road show in 2009, as illustrations of his pot-stirring capabilities. Although not known to me personally, more’s the pity, the death of any good writer seems to me to be a personal loss. A person who can make us think thoughts bigger than ourselves, and have the ability to quote great gobs of poetry from memory while whether chock full of Scotch or not is a rare jewel indeed.
So – being usually optimistic, I’ll shortly pull up my socks and get on with it. One often-used remedy for me is escapism through sitting in a darkened theatre for a couple of hours. Thus on the first Sunday of the season, I watched a rip-roaring saga of the New York Times. The consensus is that it might be just one battle-victory in a much larger war, but for at least for those two hours, the thoroughly-researched, carefully-chosen, printed-word triumphed: a bright spot in the midst of lengthening darkness.
That’s how the bittersweetness of autumn works, I suppose; it provides an atmosphere, which facilitates a little introspection and reflection. Then, the need to move along with the business at hand puts that feeling back into the cupboard for the time being. After all, there have to be blue moments in order to provide that base of comparison which makes us appreciate and recognize those golden moments when patches of sunshine make us think, “Oh joy!” and warm us through the flame-colored leaves.