Fall has arrived and the breezes this weekend cleared away most of what was left of summer. Last week at home I walked along the river like I always do and this time of year when the water laps at my feet, it is warmer than the air, inviting, deceiving, teasing me into thinking summer will push back on autumn and maybe even win out. I don’t mind the change so much; I’m not bothered by the passing of time as much as how I spend the passing of time.
Tonight I’m in West Virginia, and winter’s on its way. The leaves are just beyond peak here, and my drive to the coast tomorrow will bring me through every stage of autumn. Sometimes you can see all the changes happen in one day. Crazy.
The truth is, some things need to change. Even with resistence, sometimes it is the only way to make room for new growth.
For me even the seasonal change from summer to fall is often troublesome. Again, I don’t mind fall—my days in western New York and Massachusetts are most memorable for this time of year. And obviously I know it is going to happen. I watch the weather, I mark the calendar, I see the leaves letting go. But still it always takes me by surprise. I wake up one day and I need to wear more clothes, or I no longer feel the sun so strong on my shoulders, and I am saddened.
So when a change is even more unexpected, like anyone else I wonder how I am going to handle it. And the surest way—for me anyway—to gauge my reaction to life being different or accepting some sort of radical, unexpected shift in existence is to look back to when these things have happened before.
I’ve never lived a conventional life.
In kindergarten I liked a little red-haired girl, Kathleen. Just like Charlie Brown I was afraid to approach her. We were in the same class until third grade when at the end of the school year my family moved much further out on the Island. Instead of saying goodbye to her I made a card that said, “I love you” and threw it at her in the hallway. I think she got it. Now I wish I had just handed it to her politely and said I was sorry I was moving. I never saw her again. I probably didn’t handle that relationship well.
A line from a favorite song of mine says, “Can you picture a time when a man had to find his own way through an unbroken land?” Imagine that for a second. No satellite photos, no GPS, no maps and indicators, no sextant, nothing but perhaps some paths beaten by cattle or floods. Wild.
In some ways that’s all of us in our youth. Personally, I often ignored advice of my older siblings, examples set down on television or in school. I simply preferred to assess a situation and have at it on my own terms, even if it meant complete and utter disaster. Once I walked three blocks from home just to play with a friend’s plastic bowling pin set. I was eight. Another time I decided to hike into the San Jacinto Mountains outside Palm Springs without telling my parents, or anyone for that matter. I missed the small sign that said “Danger: Rattle Snake Area. Keep Out.” What a beautiful hike that was until I fell into a Saguaro cactus and spent an extra hour on a rock pulling thorns out of my leg. What a great day.
My point is simple. I should be dead. Or abducted. Or in juvi for harrassing an eight year old girl. Instead, I gained that small bit of confidence we used to earn out on our own, trying and failing, fantasizing and acting and pretending. You simply never know when those youthful lessons will return to come in handy, see us through an unexpected left-turn, help us through the changes.
I thought about those years, my early youth in Massapequa Park on Long Island, and how innocent it all was; how we flipped baseball cards and played stickball. We had block parties where the block would be closed to traffic and we all put picnic tables and grills out and walked up and down the street talking to everyone else and sharing food, and riding bikes, and the adults had drinks and the kids had fun. Television went off the air at night, just a fuzzy white noise until the early morning when a black and white flag waved across the screen and some dude said, “We now begin our broadcast day” after the National Anthem.
This was the age of my youth. It was innocent and tech-free and filled with hippies and protests and flag-burning and marches and sit-ins and rumbles. The laughable Mets became the champs and we walked on the moon. On the moon, for God’s sake. How can you possibly not understand why at the core of my generation is some semblance of hope, still simmering. We were not a generation of followers staring at our hands; not by any stretch of the imagination. So when the times were a ‘changing, we changed—or we were the ones causing the change to begin with. And as we grew older, those organic traits became part of our DNA.
Change. Part of who we are is absolutely dependent upon how we were when we were young. And when I was young I was restless, always ready for something new. I didn’t mind our move away from the Little Red-Haired girl. I didn’t mind the move to Virginia.
I welcome what’s next.
“To change is to be new. To be new is to be young again.”
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are going.”
We now begin our broadcast day.