The age of autumn: A celebration of getting older
Every year, autumn starts on my birthday. 29 big ones this time around. Things feel more or less the same. They also feel different. Despite the dawning of a pandemic, 28 felt important in other, more clearly positive ways. Like the beginning of a new era, it felt like some large but beneficial change I am yet to fully understand. 29 was a bit more of a shock to the system, its positivity less clear. It felt quick. It came fast. Whether or not it came “too” fast is up to interpretation, and maybe that is the point. Younger ones may roll their eyes at yet another cynical millennial, while older individuals will tell you 29 means “nothing” in terms of experience. Many of them perceive their age as having wed far more wisdom to their lives than your relatively shorter 29 years of life.
I am a follower of the belief that the aging of the body and mind does not necessarily mean an aging of the heart. 30, 60, all these ages are still young to me. Who has the right to say when another one’s life is closer to its end, anyway? But as quickly as the change between summer to winter in the northeast can shock one’s system, the tensions between each passing year, and approaching to the crest of a new decade, can just as starkly steal your breath. And they can just as easily get you down. No matter how many decades you have lived through. Experience is relative, and learning has a place in all ages.
Growing up, autumn’s dichotomies terrified me almost as much as I loved them. I found vitality in the strangeness of Halloween and its allowance for me to be a new character. I found peace in fall’s vibrant colors that revealed so many new senses about the world: the sharp smells, the chill of a slight wind, the sound of muffled footsteps. I also dreaded going back to school and all the academic and social stresses it entailed. I do not think I ever asked if other kids experienced similar sentiments, but one of the things I feared most was the passage of time, and in my mind this season’s changes were the clearest reminder of that passage. Another year, another aging out of the leaves on the trees, taking their fall. Another cycle of such visible change, another gnarled red, orange and yellow blanket lording over the underbrush. Another cycle around the sun... another aging of me. Would I make it in the world? What does that even look like?
We are taught from a young age to race against time and the elements. Ever since I was young, I have seen headline after headline, unending opinions on “why people age,” “how not to age,” “how to slow down your aging,” “what not to eat” and “how to look youthful.” People seek counterbalances to aging in the form of toxic chemicals, calling them “solutions.”
But the truth is, on the day I turned 29 last week I wrote about how much I love my partner’s new laugh lines, her gorgeous wrinkles, grinning together at our new respective joint aches, bruises of beloved adventures and memories. I thought about how much I have loved reflecting on how I have grown, and how I have grown to love that growth. How I have learned to hold my younger self and tell her all the things I now know how to tell her. It looks like consoling her, it looks like forgiving her. I wonder if it’s simpler than seeking clarity in or answers to aging, or creating “solutions” to its changes. I look at how often the leaves, the trees and the ground change every autumn. Perhaps with each renewal they grow new wisdom as well, or perhaps not — just like me. Either way, the change remains just as beautiful, unique and revealing.
Perhaps I can look at myself and my aging similarly. I am grateful that age has brought me patience with life, learning, people and yes, aging. I now find hope in autumn. The northeast seasons are gorgeous, and sometimes my love for the season is as simple as that. But autumn is also the eye of a storm, a tepid moment between summer’s outgoing scorching rage, and winter’s sharp greeting. It is about transition, simultaneously waxing and waning. Like aging, it can be jarring and it can be rejuvenating. But I think I’ve learned a lot from the love of my life, who tells me life is about experiences. I believe her.
Each autumn, the changes in me rage with each new excitement, new weariness, new fears, new anxieties, new uncertainties, new exhaustion, new energy. And unlike my younger self, I think that’s okay. Rather than worrying about not having regrets, I think it’s okay to ride the wave of the year and experience things as they come to you. I think I’d like to embrace aging, with all its wrinkles, lines and scars. They all tell their stories, and storytelling is one of the best things about being human. Aging is about learning. Learning to grow but also to love yourself, others, the world and the whole universe in new ways as they also grow and change. There is an excitement in that too. There is peace in that patience.
The one recent article that resonated with me and my aging in a peaceful way told me to “try adding life to years rather than years to life.” You can look at all the wrongs in the world, and wonder what we are supposed to learn from aging in such a complex, challenging place. The answers seem endless, and I still do not know if I have it down right. But I’m not sure “getting it right” is the point anymore. These days I find myself looking to the narrating queen’s summative words at the end of one of my favorite films, “Ever After”: “The point is, they lived.”