Fall, the hinge season: time of transition, from warm to chilly, from preferred (by many) to tolerated (by most). Longer, pleasant days give way to shorter, often less pleasant ones. So-called because leaves fall from trees, which image–leaf separating from tree, doing so in obedience to the inexorable pull, life’s need to purge and eliminate so as to make space for the new–will always be associated with my mother’s passing. She will have died 19 years ago tomorrow, and the doctor in the oncology ward where she lay in a coma used this image to try to explain to my father, my sister, and me, with all the gentleness he could muster, that we needed to let her die. She was a leaf at the end of its life cycle, and we needed to let her detatch and fall.
For a long time now I’ve thought that if life were a film screenplay in development, even the most sentimental and wide-eyed of readers would toss it back with “You gotta be kidding me!” or “Patently unbelievable; scale back!” in its margins. But of course art tries its darndest to imitate the incredulity of life, and not the other way around.
And so it came to pass that in the space of three days this week:
- my youngest child left the haven of preschool and stepped onto the brave, 13 year-long conveyor belt toward his adulthood;
- the very next day, that same youngest child fell from the monkey bars and fractured his “angulated distal radial” and “ulnar” bones in his forearm;
- a large branch fell off the 50-foot gum tree in front of our house, narrowly missing the passage under it of four children and a grandmother, but not missing the front porch roof (it very nearly rang the doorbell, and quite definitely knocked on the front door); and
- later that same day, just as I was gathering my things to go, I was dismissed from my job, with more or less the same notice and advance signs we had about the tree branch (which is to say: little-to-none).
I’ve said it before and will say it again: anyone who does not think that everyday life is absolutely pulsating with signs and symbols is simply not looking carefully enough.
As per my custom, I am a gal of deliberation, diplomacy, and discretion. Also, two cancer deaths of very close family and two sudden deaths of very close friends tend to render everyday dramas a fairly unshakable sense of proportion. I’ve said very little in this space about my employment life (“What employment life?! Where?!” two-thirds of y’all say, proving my point), and now is a fine time to continue that trend. Mostly what I’ve said is that it’s been hard to work so much and still give enough time to my kids and my self (where self = my writing), simple truths known by every employed parent. I’ve described the work as something I considered an honor, which it was, and something I very much enjoyed, which I did. I loved the folks I worked with, and for. About it, and about the process of examining the leaf (or tree branch) on the ground, and assimilating its new life as compost: the wisest path is to find the right balance between understanding and industry. Understanding: figuring out what happens and why. Industry: harvesting all useful wisdom and investing energy in the loamy possibility of what’s next.
As for the other falls, seasonal and my son’s: it’s chilly today in these parts. I wore a sweater, and the beloved, perpetually in another season in another state, shivered as we stood talking with parents in the schoolyard following school drop off this morning. My son’s arm is in a cast today, and though the pain was terrific yesterday, the doc at Children’s Hospital said it was a “good” break, whatever that means. In six weeks he’ll be out of the cast. This morning at the school’s community meeting he was a micro-hero to the other kindergarteners: the school’s first Fall Guy (apparently there was a Fall Girl the day before).
“How’d it happen?”
“Did it hurt?”
“A lot at first, but it’s getting better.”
That’s enough for some. For others who linger around long enough for another morsel, he has one, about the cast:
“It glows in the dark.”