I am never sorry when summer ends, but I don’t think I have much company in that. I’ve met so many people who hate to see fall arrive. They love summer because it’s the carefree season when the pace of life slows down, people go on vacation, and picnics and barbecues are on everyone’s social calendar. As the song “Summertime” has it, “the livin’ is easy.”
I love all of that, too—until a heat wave hits and the temperature and humidity soar, and it’s a miserable experience just to go outside and walk around. So I welcome September and autumn with enthusiasm, and I celebrate when the suffocating heat disappears and the weather grows cooler and it’s a joy to get out into the brisk air. Along with those changes, though, comes the realization that the days are growing shorter and darkness falls sooner. The earlier sunsets always make me think about the passage of time.
The dwindling year encourages reflection. The changes that the season brings are obvious, even dramatic: bright foliage, and then falling leaves, bare trees, colder temperatures. Nature lays aside the lush look it wore in summer and pulls back, spare and unadorned. Not a bad setting for looking inside ourselves, into mind and soul, and taking stock.
The obvious questions always occur to me: What have I accomplished this year? What am I doing, what have I left undone, and what do I want to do? What changes should I make? Those questions might seem more appropriate for New Year’s Day, the traditional time for examining our lives and making resolutions. But the Christmas season can become too busy and too filled with activities—and with merriment, as it should be—to allow for serious self-evaluation. I’d rather do it now. If there are changes I need to make, why wait till January? Besides, this season is a kind of new year. School resumes and study groups for adults get under way. Activities that took a summer break start up again. There are so many opportunities to learn and to try a new activity. It’s also the perfect time to deepen our spiritual lives.
Autumn traditionally symbolizes the dwindling of life, the time of winding down and slowing up. It is the season of harvest, of completion, of nature’s transition from growth and ripening to the dormancy of winter, season of shriveled plants and bleak scenery, when the life of the earth withdraws beneath a covering of ice and snow. But nature’s cycle of life, death and rebirth is different from the course of human life. We are not moving in a circle. We who are made in the image and likeness of God are on a journey to him that follows a kind of timeline, going through earthly life and then, by God’s grace, through death to eternal life. We are always moving forward, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
There have been times in my life when I felt as if I’d gone backward. Sometimes I had done just that. What matters is to let go of the mistakes and wrong turns, to reverse direction and keep moving, always with hope. For the Catholic, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by or how old we grow. We have the privilege of constant spiritual renewal through the sacraments. They bring us not only grace, but also a kind of interior youth. They enable us to keep on growing and thriving in spirit and mind as we move toward the Lord who is the source of all life—the God who is always at work in us.
Like many of us, I’ve looked at the calendar at this season and asked, “Where did the year go?” I think of autumn not so much as the twilight of the year, but rather as the time for a new beginning. Amid the beauty of the earth’s harvest, I hope to reap my own personal harvest of the spirit. Give it a try.