Michelle Martin

Seasons change

Thursday, October 26, 2017

When people ask my favorite season, I usually say fall. Fall in Chicago doesn’t usually have the oppressive heat and humidity of summer, nor the face-freezing cold of winter. The weather tends to be mild, and it’s more reliable than the fickle springs we usually get.

For much of the season, late summer flowers are still blooming, then the red maples take fire and the ubiquitous honey locust trees glow gold. The days get shorter, of course, but as the sun stays lower in the sky, the light takes on a gentler tone.

Really, that’s only part of the reason.

As the season progresses and the darkness comes earlier, the weather turns blustery. Dry leaves skitter and swirl on the sidewalk, and the wind rattles against fences and moans between houses, reminding us of the regrets of summer. For just a little while, it’s easy to see why the Celts thought the boundaries between this world and the next grew more permeable this time of year.

As the shadows grow long even in the hours just after school, as night is falling when the workday ends, you can imagine spirits lurking around the corners and behind the trees. There’s a fantastical, phantasmical sense of chaos, that anything might happen. It’s in the exhilaration of children out trick-or-treating on Halloween night — when else are children taken out after dark? To beg candy from strangers? — and in the season’s emphasis on the macabre.

The church recognizes the season with the feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, choosing the turning of the year to remind the faithful that they belong to a communion that transcends this life.

Yet, in the end, it subsides. The darkness becomes more oppressive, the frost paints windows and the noise of swirling leaves gives way to the silence of swirling snow.

The time for drama — at least the gothic drama of autumn — draws to a close. The ghosts retreat, the noisy spirits are muted and the growing things rest, waiting for their time of rebirth. The time of chaos subsides, making way for the winter, which will inevitably lead to spring.

Soon enough, despite the cold and the dark, we will be on the lookout for a spark of light, a sign the world is returning to life. We get that sign at Christmas, just days after the longest night of the year.

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is an appointed time for everything, a season for every affair under heaven. Late fall offers us a glimpse of turmoil and tumult, before we are pulled back on track, reminded that while we aren’t in control, we don’t need to be.


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