Autumn has always been my favorite season. Something about the crisp and redolent air invigorates me, makes me feel more alive after the hot sluggishness of the summer. As a child, I loved the fall because it signaled a return to school (and unlike many other young people, I looked forward to the first day of school, every year, until I graduated) and return to routine, normalcy. I loved (and still do) jumping in piles of fallen leaves and wearing sweaters to school and hoodies to the park where we would play football in the morning before heading back indoors to watch the pros play on Sunday afternoons.
A few weeks ago, as we marveled at the changing colors of the leaves north of the city, my best friend remarked that the reds had lost their luster: that the leaves no longer turned a vibrant, rich red like they had when we were younger. I hadn’t thought about it before, but looked around us and agreed; the red leaves seemed more dull, less bright than I remembered when I was younger.
Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for red leaves, and have been seeing them everywhere. And not just any old red: vibrant, bright reds full of life and spirit.
It’s easy to have fond memories of the past, to look at the years before us through a favorable lens. Nostalgia allows us to take the good memories and forget the bad ones, to look at the past as somehow better than the present.
Nostalgia lets you believe that twenty-five years ago, you were a kid that wore bowties to kindergarten and made everyone say “aaaw” because you were so cute, but now things aren’t as good because you’re overweight and ugly. Nostalgia lets you believe that fifteen years ago, you were a decent football player and people thought you were strong and tough, but now things aren’t as good because you injured your knee and have days when you can barely walk. Nostalgia lets you believe that five years ago, you were being lauded and winning awards for your writing, but now things aren’t as good because your writing is hokey and contrived and not all that original. Nostalgia lets you believe that last year, your best friend held on to hugs a little longer and was truly happy and appreciative when she got to spend time with you, and now things aren’t as good because she it feels as though she’s taking you for granted. Nostalgia lets you believe that six months ago, you felt healthy and almost invincible, and now things aren’t as good because you’re on several pills a day and have to sleep each night with tubes connecting you to a machine.
But maybe, just maybe, when we are wistful about the happinesses of the past, we’re just not looking hard enough for those same happinesses in the present.
Maybe you’re not cute and cuddly anymore, but there are still a few people out there that aren’t afraid to admit that they like having you around. Maybe you’re not tough and very athletic anymore, but you’re more in tune with the limits, and potential, of your body. Maybe you’re not winning awards for your writing anymore, but people still tell you that the things you share (long stories or short tweets) make them smile and have an impact on them. Maybe your best friend may not smile every time you send her a message to let her know you were thinking of her anymore, but spending time with her still brings you so much joy because she makes you feel so loved when you do. Maybe you’re not pill-free anymore, but the medication and treatment you are taking is helping to fix hidden problems you didn’t know you had all these years.
Maybe those bright red leaves are still there, but we’re just not out playing in the schoolyard enough to notice that they surround us.