Fall is definitely here–the windshield of our car was covered with leaves yesterday afternoon–and I find that I have mixed feelings about its arrival. Time was when I would have rejoiced, for it used to be my favorite season. Somewhere along the line, though, I changed my mind, and it looks like it’s going to stay changed.
It’s not that I don’t love the colors of the foliage in Connecticut, or the enlivening touches of crispness in the air. I even love the going-back-to-school memories that are never far from my mind at this time of year. (I was the kind of prig who liked school so much that he couldn’t wait for summer to be over.) Alas, I now find winter increasingly disagreeable, and the trouble with fall is that it’s full of signs of the chilly horrors to come.
This, needless to say, is a perfectly conventional way to feel, and my generation, the original herd of independent minds, has always prided itself on sneering at convention. But I don’t feel that way anymore. Like Dr. Johnson, I rejoice to concur with the common reader, whose sentiments are no less true for being familiar, and it is the commonly held view of middle-aged New Yorkers that winter is no fun at all. The colder it gets, the harder everyday life becomes, and the harder it is to forget, even momentarily, that whatever else you are, you’re definitely not young anymore.
I’m not normally the broody type, and I try not to sit around moping about the inevitable. Least of all do I go in for the kind of self-conscious melancholy in which a poet like A.E. Housman specialized. Adolescence is bad enough when you’re going through it. It’s far worse when you indulge in it long after the fact (The ear too fondly listens/For summer’s parting sighs,/And then the heart replies). I am what I am, and most of the time I find it possible to live, as the saying goes, in the moment, reveling in who I am and that which is.
In 2005 I marked the twentieth anniversary of my move to New York by quoting in this space a passage from All in the Dances in which I described George Balanchine’s iron determination to live in the moment, whatever the cost:
His ruthlessly practical approach to running a dance company was rooted in the hard-won knowledge that his next breath might be his last. He worked within the means available at the moment, using them to the fullest, never wasting time longing for better dancers or a bigger budget: “A dog is going to remain a dog, even if you want to have a cat; you’re not going to have a cat, so you better take care of the dog because that’s what you’re going to have.” He ran his private life along the same lines: when he had money, he spent it lavishly, on himself and others, and when he didn’t, he lived frugally. “You know,” he said, “I am really a dead man. I was supposed to die and I didn’t, and so now everything I do is second chance. That is why I enjoy every day. I don’t look back. I don’t look forward. Only now.” This dance, this meal, this woman: that was his world.
I like to think that I live that way as well, at least up to a point. Yet autumn insists relentlessly on its own inescapable meanings, too much so for me to welcome it in the unselfconscious way that I did when I was a young man. What makes it tolerable is the existence of Mrs. T, whom I met eight Novembers ago and married six Octobers ago. To have found a companion in middle age is the supreme solace, and I never take my own autumnal fortune for granted, least of all when it’s snowing. I know, too, that happiness is heightened–at least in theory–by the consciousness of life’s ruthless transience.
Even so, I could wish not to be reminded of it every time a leaf falls, and sometimes, like now, I do.
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Jo Stafford sings Ralph Burns’ “Early Autumn.” The lyric is by Johnny Mercer and the arrangement is by Paul Weston: