I believe two-thirds of the people who choose to live in New England do so because of autumn. There’s not a place in the world that offers more in palpable beauty or the power of physical transformation than this small corner of the country in these few, precious weeks. It seems ironic that a sharp inhalation of autumn air can instantly exhilarate us: that first morning breath is so bounteous, so promising—even as the foliage falls into its smoky decline. Amazingly, the glory never dissipates. Spend forty years watching the maple leaves changing and, on the forty-first, those brilliant oranges will still seem like a miracle.
So why is it that we value this particular season - as it leaves its verdant youth behind and eases toward a rich maturity - and yet, in our own lives, perpetually long for the young years in which we knew very little about ourselves or anything else? I once asked a classroom full of sixteen year olds what age they’d like to be forever. They reached far into the future and, by consensus, settled on twenty-five. I was incredulous. Not because I thought they were short-sighted or because I thought their answer was silly. Quite the contrary: this was a group of students that I deeply admired. But the answer sounded absurd to me because everything in my life after forty and after fifty has been more meaningful, more enjoyable, and more valuable. I am more confident in my choices, more cognizant of their impact, and more willing to consider that an answer is not nearly as valuable as the question. In my wisest moments, I actually feel like I know less now than I did at twenty-five—which is not factually accurate but it is a more intuitive perspective: I am comfortable being less fixed and more free. It’s become a real privilege to be less of an authority and more of a willing listener, aware that something can be learned at every unexpected instant. Autumn is that way, too. Trees are no longer holding onto their old ways and they’re better for it. Everyone applauds their evolution. So maybe there’s no irony at all in fall: being capable of change is a most admirable characteristic. Doing so is not necessarily a manifestation of inconsistency or of inevitable decline. Often it’s centered on prioritizing what’s essential or even what’s unacceptable. It might even verge on silly. But, hopefully, these shifts are always made in pursuit of a better day. So add things in; give things up; mimic autumn. We are often at our most splendid when we allow ourselves to become something different. Just ask a couple of fifty-something women who quit their jobs to open a home decor shop in the middle of Providence. They’ll tell you that the next chapter is always worth the wait.