Every year around this time I move from hating (but tolerating) the summer sun and heat to actively hating it. The reason for this (I surmise) is that this is the time of the year when school restarts, and it seems monstrous to me to have school starting while it is summer outside! In any case, this post is my latest iteration in what has become something of a tradition for me, stretching back to 2012 I think, in which I laud the fall as the source of much goodness while maligning the summer.
* * *
I wrote back in April about my hopes for the summer. I wrote that Amanda and I would attempt to use the summer as a place from which to launch an evaluation of our status quo and to make changes that we believed to be necessary for us to live in cognizance with our values. Things did not proceed as systematically as I would like (things never proceed as systematically as I would like), but I think we got a lot of the important heart work done. In particular, I was able to spend a large amount of time simply being present with the girls. And these last few days back at work have been difficult in some ways because I have missed the girls so much.
The summer is still and doesn’t move. It is trapped by oppressive heat and muted by a shouting sun. While the stillness of summer does allow focus and attention (that is, the summer slow down naturally prompts introspection), it also yields boredom and stagnation. I remember as a kid searching for ways to make the summer bearable. Once, as the summer neared its conclusion, I remember intentionally creating and then solving long division problems simply because I missed having something structured to do every day!
So, while the summer can be good (watermelon, swimming, grilling, naps), we also need the fall.
* * *
The poets usually treat spring as the season of renewal because it follows on the heels of the icy darkness of winter within which everything good and beautiful has died. But these poets didn’t grow up in Texas. In Texas, the harsh season is not winter (that’s pretty mild). Rather, our harsh season is the summer because it lasts 4 months or so (June-September, with July and August being the worst), consistently tops 100 degrees, and is rarely interrupted by rain. Since summer is our winter (in that it is the harshest season), then fall is our spring, a season of renewal after the punishment of summer.
Fall is my favorite season. I used to think it was winter (mainly because of the cold), but I like the fall better. I am abnormal in that I dislike spring and hate summer. While this is caused by my experience of Texas, it is also largely related to the fact that I have a melancholy spirit.
I don’t like or trust flashy or glitzy things. I dislike loud noises and large crowds. I am highly introverted and am afraid of meeting too many new people at once. I really hate the noon sun, or any kind of direct light–especially fluorescent light. I use a copious number of lamps to light my house and classroom so that I do not have to turn on the overhead lights. I sit in darkness and wait for dawn every morning. Dusk is, perhaps, the most exhilarating part of my day.
I like fall because the leaves are beautiful in death; they are hopeful in suffering. I like the fall because it comes with the season of Advent, the first vague hope of a cold incarnation. I like fall because that’s when school starts, because I get to teach a renewed curriculum to new students. fall is a time of a kind of renewal, a kind of recharge after the flame and glare of an overbearing summer.
The summer sun bleaches me dry, but the fall clouds and rain help restore me to myself. And to the world.
* * *
Amanda and I really leaned into our own has homeowners this summer. While last summer we dealt with the overwhelming mold fiasco, this summer has presented itself with easier and more manageable problems that we have been delighted to largely solve ourselves. So, for example, I learned how to repair leaking plumbing beneath my sink, how to repair leaking outside faucets, how to deal with certain recalcitrant weeds, how to do some landscaping in the front flowerbed, what to do when one’s home is assaulted by spiders and roaches, and, biggest of all, who to call when the AC goes out in August.
We also thought through how we use technology, the aesthetics of our home, how to do marriage when the little people run your life, and how to interact with parents who increasingly seem like real people and not the distant demigods they were when we were children. I even got an opportunity to spend a few days with my parents as they moved from my childhood home on the south-side of Houston to the north-side.
One of the things we have learned this summer is the value of contributing to good work and maintenance, to resist replacement and to insist on repairing instead. This repairing and shoring up and consolidating–this is the basic idea that one should leave a space in better condition than it was when one arrived. In these little things, in repairing my own minor plumbing issues (for example), I am cooperating in God’s renewal of all things.
* * *
In the book of Revelation, God declares to all of creation: Behold, I make all things new.
Growing up, I heard that sentiment in the sense that, at the end, God will make a different Heaven and a different earth. They will be “new” in the same sense as a new pair of shoes from the store is “new.” But then, a New Testament professor in undergrad clarified that a better translation might be something like Behold, I renew all things.
There will be a (re)newed Heaven and a (re)newed earth. God is not making a new Heaven and a new earth, he is making the only Heaven and the only earth new. He is renewing it. The sentiment that I grew up understanding was rooted in a consumerist, throwaway culture in which we repaired very little. Even now, I buy new shoes when my old ones wear out. I don’t get them repaired (renewed). I don’t darn my socks. I don’t patch my pants or my shirts.
Wendell Berry offers a stinging critique of the American obsession with newness (in the consumerist sense). He writes:
It is plain to me that the line ought to be drawn without fail wherever it can be drawn easily. And it ought to be easy (though many do not find it so) to refuse to buy what one does not need. If you are already solving your problem with the equipment you have–a pencil, say–why solve it with something more expensive and more damaging [a computer]? If you don’t have a problem, why pay for a solution? If you love the freedom and elegance of simple tolls, why encumber yourself with something complicated?
He goes on to describe the ease with which he refuses to own a television or a computer, but also his dis-ease with owning a truck and using a chainsaw to cut wood. The problem with our fascination with new things is that we end up destroying so much that is good in our desperate reaching for “progress.” This is true of anything from liturgy in the church to food production to teaching: we are oriented toward the next thing, the new thing. We believe in the myth of infinite progress. But this is the sin of chronological snobbery.
I love the fall because it insists that there was a time before us, before our culture, before our vision of the world. Fall offers a glimpse of cultural history, a clear memory of a time of harvest. Pumpkins (even when reduced to “spice” and blended into a Starbucks monstrosity) force us to remember. As does Thanksgiving. As do the falling leaves.
The newness that fall offers is not novelty, it is not so much the sudden sprout in a garden, the beginning of a birdsong; rather, Fall offers us a renewal of identity, a renewal of self. A recapitulation of the old in the dance of creation.
* * *
The school year officially started for me this past week. I returned to my school for my third year as a teacher. I have had meetings, time to work on my classroom, and time to make lesson plans and revise curriculum before the students return this coming Thursday.
To my school, I am a returning teacher. But I bring with me a year’s worth of plans and a summer of new experiences. I am returning to a familiar environment (for which I am deeply grateful; I cling to familiarity like a drowning man clings to a raft. As my dad says, “get in a rut and stay in it.”), but I am also returning to a changed environment with new colleagues and students. I am not a new teacher, of course, but I am renewed.
I am renewed by my work on my house and by my time with my girls and by my roadtrips to see family and by my time playing in the pool and by my newly adopted nephew and by time spent in therapy and by mine and Amanda’s work on our marriage and by my time in the kitchen and by the class I took and the conference I went to and more and more and so much more.
* * *
So may the weather cool down, the leaves change their colors, the scarves be warm and snug, and the fallish melancholia be meaningful!
O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty:
Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works;
that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve
thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all
things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.