It is dark November–gray, wet, the yellow and red leaves slowly drifting to the ground. I have always liked the melancholy of fall, its rich colors and long nights, but this year the season is not just a metaphor, but also a lived experience. I am in the fall of my life, and what I seem to be shedding are my illusions—that death is not real, that summer lasts forever. Friends are dying, and children have grown and left. Many of my friends have been thrown up on the rocks of middle-age unexpectedly single, or having been laid off of jobs they thought secure, or, like me, are dealing with chronic illness. There is a general zeitgeist of shock. How did this happen? How did it happen to me?
Life has not turned out as expected.
Why are we surprised? We’d heard rumors, but chose to disbelieve them, children of a golden age that we were. But now, our feints and slights of hand no longer work.
it comes home, the flea-ridden bitch of desolation,
a thin dog with its ribs exposed like a lesson
in mathematics, in subtraction; it comes home, to find its bowl
empty—then the numberless
things for which to be grateful dissolve
like the steam from a fire just doused with water
on a day of overcast grays, lined
by a cold slanting rain—
(from “Facing It,” by Eleanor Wilner)
Yet, being alive, we still want to live—although how to live is the question. Jason Shinder in his poem, “Middle Age,” addresses the dilemma:
Many of my friends are alone
and know too much to be happy
though they still want to dive
to the bottom of the green ocean
and bring back a gold coin
in their hand. A woman I know wakes
in the late evening and talks
to her late husband,
the windows blank photographs….
Do we know too much to be happy?
Perhaps not happy in the way of our protracted youth. We can’t unknow what we know, what we’ve experienced. There are losses and they are real. I think we are supposed to feel them, not minimize them. They are a part of our story, but not our whole story.
A friend thrown over by her husband ten years for a girl his daughter’s age has found a new, surprising love.
A friend laid off in the recession has been rehired and is now a senior and respected teacher.
Children have children; our street is full of the next generation.
Fall is a season, but not the only season.