“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” ― Lauren DeStefano
It’s one of those weeks when everything comes together in an uncanny way.
Yesterday was the first day of autumn. To me, autumn had always signified the ending of my favorite season, summer. Not only is my birthday in July (a day that never overlapped with school), but everything’s blooming and no matter what’s going on in life, at least you can step outside and the weather will be beautiful. Summer just feels so good. But in the last few weeks, I’ve realized autumn has come to mean something more to me, and perhaps my favorite season isn’t summer or autumn, but those four months that encompass the transition of the two seasons – July to October. When summer slows down and melts into a more subdued, golden version of itself, settling into something comfortable, yet melancholy – into autumn.
This past weekend, a friend of mine who had also gone to Quail Springs this January lost his 20-year-old sister to a four-year fight with osteosarcoma. The family had learned her case was terminal earlier this spring, but that didn’t make the news any less devastating. I had never met this sister, but I could see how much my friend cared about her from the way he spoke about her – a big brother unable to protect her from something beyond his control, yet eternally inspired by the optimism and hope she showed throughout her struggle.
I attended her visitation today. It was the first one I had been to in my life, the first time I’d seen family and friends gathered to mourn the loss of a life, the first time I had seen an open casket. I’ve never been sure what to say to people who are grieving, but it seems the best thing to do is just to be there. I didn’t really know what to say when I saw my friend, so I just gave him the biggest hug I could muster, unable to stop tears from welling up. The funeral will be tomorrow.
Tuesday night, I was slated to go to a show my that boyfriend had more or less convinced me to buy a ticket for in honor of his birthday: War on Drugs, with Califone as the opener. In preparation for the night, I kept the two artists in background rotation the few days before. And then one song caught my ear, so I played it again, and again. And again. It’s titled “Funeral Singers.”
A spark is aching for the light / Return return return tonight
All my friends, all my friends / All my friends are keeping time
All my friends have just quit trying / All my friends, all my friends
Are funeral sings, funeral singers, funeral singers wailing
Califone didn’t play it during the show (to be fair, they were just the opener), but the song continues to play on repeat in my mind during this heavy week.
Yesterday, on this first day of autumn, another death-referencing song came on shuffle while I was running.
James Kent, son of a bitch / You were my best friend
When you set your head down on the train tracks / Said “This is it” and closed your eyes
My crushed soul, me and Bobby Boyd / Were in the funeral home
Sorting through the memory of a homeless man / That moved into our home and made us whole
This song and story from Ryan Alexander of Civilian about the homeless man who changed his life, yet who didn’t mean much to anyone else, is deeply touching. For me, it hits even harder after a summer spent volunteering at the Listening House, a day shelter in St. Paul that provides a warm and safe environment for people experiencing poverty, homelessness or loneliness. Lots of people die every day, but not all of their lives are honored. Some of those lives don’t “matter,” don’t attract a crowd of loved ones and piles of flowers and sympathy cards. For some, the end is the end, and the memory of the person dies along with them.
I find it odd that in death / They circle you with flowers
And they tuck you in bed / Where they tell you that they loved you
But for twenty-five years you slept beneath a bridge
Where you were dying of AIDS and smoking a crack pipe
I am lucky, because my experience with death up to this point has been fairly distant. This summer, I faced the first death of a family member during my adult life – my Deda (grandpa) – but even him I only saw for a few weeks every other summer. I didn’t know it then, but I said goodbye to him for the last time in July 2010, outside my grandparents’ apartment building, with a hug and a kiss and an “I’ll miss you,” fully expecting to see him again.
I admit I am terrified of the day that death strikes closer to home, but I don’t want to live in constant fear. Perhaps the key lies in retaining the belief that in endings always exist beginnings. It’s the cruel, but hopeful, circular duality of life, and I think that’s worth holding on to. Here’s to the idea of autumn as the beginning of a season, not the mere ending of one.
Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes and failures had been wiped clean by summer.” – Wallace Stegner