Life in the Fall and the Descent

The Beauty of the in Between

Ali Holcomb / 11.29.21

In DC it finally feels like our feet are firmly planted in Autumn, no more 80 degree days will sneak back in.  Autumn is the slow descent from summer going all the way to winter; we begin to move into a burrowing season. These new dark hours send us inside earlier, we aren’t as social or outgoing. We fall into our routines. For many, November brings in a new somberness, daylight savings has robbed us of our evenings, and for those who dislike winter, they dread knowing it’s right around the corner. I adore winter (I’ll probably write a whole article on this later), so for me it’s a build-up to my favorite season. “Build-up,” though, isn’t quite the right word. It’s a descent. But even descents can be beautiful. 

We struggle with fall because it feels like a letdown after summer, we often are looking in the rear view of the adventures, the fun, but we aren’t supposed to live like that. We ought not look so far ahead to winter, forcing ourselves to live in perpetual dread for what we assume will be dark and dreary. Nor can we be staring in the rear view, for if we do that we miss the beauty surrounding us. C.S. Lewis phrases it best in Screwtape Letters: “The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

It’s in summer that we get swept up in fun and frivolity. The extra hours of sunlight coax us to fill up our days to the brim. But in the fall we start asking ourselves what we really ought to fill them with? And fall gives us an answer to this descent: that change is beautiful, that perhaps red leaves against a blue sky might just be the prettiest of all. This strange transition season is one where we learn to hold the tension of benefit in loss. That cold crisp air is a relief to the baking sun some of us didn’t know to ask for (I’ve been asking for it since June). 

It’s in the fall that we all find ourselves learning to age with grace and beauty. I remember panicking in college whilst picking my major. I wasn’t a youthful high schooler, picking the wrong major could have *serious* repercussions for my life, or so I thought. Fast forward to senior year of college, I shot envious glances at the freshman, they had four years of learning and discovering, I was bracing for “the real world.” Sometimes it feels like I live my life glancing over my shoulder, looking at the season of life I just left when I ought to be simply living in the one I’m currently in. 

It was my mom’s birthday recently and she announced to me that she felt like she was “blooming.” What a beautiful thing to say at the beginning of another year of growth and learning! How many times have I melodramatically grieved my fleeting youth, feeling that I was “old” now. So, to hear my mom say she felt like parts of herself were just opening up, it made me take a deep breath about where I am in life. I’m never going to stop growing into myself, and years from now, I might feel the same way as my mom does. Maybe, even if the leaves fall, we can be comfortable and confident in the strong branches that lie beneath. I think of my grandma who just turned 90, the way she seems to grow more beautiful with every year. She emanates a joy and peace that I just can’t give off at 26. 

I’ve always preferred “autumn” to “fall”, maybe it’s just the finicky writer in me, but autumn is romantic, fall is an undesirable action. And yet, I slip into calling this season “fall” all the time. Autumn is a pretty word, but fall is an active description of what is going on around us in this season. As I walk to work amidst swirling leaves in crisp wind, an old familiar world is falling away, leaving bare branches I’ve never seen before. The world’s swan song before winter is beautiful, piercingly so. It is the photographic negative of spring, a lesson in the beauty of ageing. 

Fall is living in the “already but not yet.” It is living after the fall in Genesis, in which sin entered our world. Fall is “to come or go down suddenly,” Adam and Eve and their sudden departure from the garden. But fall is also “to let yourself come down or go down to a lower position,” Christ falling on his knees in prayer in another garden.  Already we have fallen and Christ has descended, but not yet have we experienced our true resurrection in the Spring.  May we embrace our own descents, our “already but not yet” as we see the beauty in the in between. 

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