Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Changing Seasons

It’s that time of year when we tend to most notice the changing of the seasons. Leaves turn colors, the temperature is starting to get cooler, the days get shorter, and the nights are often filled with the scents of smoke or harvest … or pumpkin spice, depending on where you live. Sandals and shorts start going back to the back of the closet, and sweaters and hats start putting in more appearances. We don’t all get all of the changes every year, but we get changes, and we notice the changes. We might have four seasons, and each one might be defined by changes, but, in my experience, this is the one that really stands out.

It’s also kind of funny, if you think about it. The change from Summer to Autumn usually stands out in a positive way in modern society. People like this change. It wakes people up and makes them feel good, and I’m certainly among that number. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. It has some of the best holidays, the best weather, and my birthday, all rolled into one season. What’s not to like? It is a change, though, that signifies death and dying. Those leaves aren’t turning colors just to be pretty, and many of the customs and traditions we take for granted at this time of year originated in cultures who were desperately reminding themselves that this death was only temporary. What we see as carefree and fun was often nothing short of terrifying at a time in the not too distant past.

How times change, right?

Many cultures in the past looked on this dying time of year with fear, and their fear was not unjustified. If the harvest was especially bad, they would not get a second chance. If the upcoming winter was especially bad, they might not need a second chance. Changes at this time of year could literally mark the difference between life and death. Some of these people lit bonfires to encourage the sun’s return, and we look back on those people from our cushioned age of technology and we call those people primitives. Let the wifi go out today, though, and you’ll see a whole new meaning of primitive behavior. The more things change, the more they stay the same. They just shift around to encompass new understandings and new tools.

It can be argued that many of those people from past cultures did not understand celestial mechanics, but I wonder how many people today truly have such an understanding. We take for granted that the seasons are cyclical, but how many of us can explain why or how that is true? How many of us are simply taking the matter on faith. and then looking down on people for expressing a different faith? It’s something to think about, if you’re inclined to ask such questions.

However we arrived at the understanding, few of us today have any reason to fear the changing of the seasons. We have relatively easy access to food, and harvests are rarely a major problem. The biggest issue most of us face from a difficult harvest is an increased price at the grocery store, or our favorite seasonal products being out of stock. There are exceptions, to be sure, and nothing I say here is meant to take away from the plight of the farmer or the poor or anyone else who might genuinely be harmed by such concerns. I’m speaking only in the more general sense of our society as a whole, and our society as a whole has achieved a level of safety and comfort that would have been viewed as practically mythological by most societies of the past. That safety and comfort allow us to see things from a different perspective so, instead of seeing falling leaves as a dire portent of impending doom, we are able to admire the beautiful colors.

We know the sun is coming back if for no other reason than because it has always come back, but how often do we forget to apply that same thinking to the more intimate parts of our own lives? If you are reading this then you have survived everything life has thrown at you to date. In fact, the odds are good that you have done more than survive. We can make certain assumptions based on the criteria needed for most people to be reading this. They aren’t guaranteed, but if we were in Vegas they would be House favorites. If you are reading this then you have a 100% success rate for dodging the falling anvils of life. Congratulations! That’s a pretty good average, but how often do you remember it? More to the point, how often do you forget it? How often are you convinced that this is the one that will do you in, completely forgetting how many times you have already successfully passed through the same fire. We all do it, so there is certainly no shame in the matter, but life can become at least a certain degree of easier if you actively know that you are doing it, so that you can actively respond accordingly when necessary. Yes, it is possible that simple wear and tear can turn a series of successes into a final failure, but there is no reason to assume that will be the case when it hasn’t happened yet. Don’t borrow trouble. If you’re doing your best, and your best has worked so far, don’t assume that your best is going to suddenly stop working. By making that assumption, you’re adding stress, which is increasing the likelihood of failure. By removing that assumption, you are also removing the corresponding amount of stress, making things that much better. You believe that Spring will come again because it always has. Believe that you will rise again because you always have.

Seasons change. There is an enormous amount of math that goes into making sure this happens and continues to happen in the manner that we have come to expect but, for most of us, it’s as simple as, seasons change. They always have and they always will, round and round we go, world without end, Amen. Simple, right? Of course not. You already know that the world is not without end. There will be a time when Spring will not come around again. It’s inevitable, but how much time do you spend worrying about it? That would be something close to none, if I had to guess.

Your own life is obviously of more immediate concern than some far off moment of entropic collapse, so it is equally obvious that you will be giving your own life a bit more concern than you do to inevitable cosmic matters. That just makes sense. My only suggestion is that you keep that concern in perspective. Your track record is better than you think, so keep that in mind. Don’t assume failure after you have had so many successes. It may be true that some of them have been pretty narrow successes, but they’re still in the Win Column, right? Remember that.

Seasons come and seasons go. Change is just about the only dependable constant in this life, so embrace it and make it work for you. Just as we as a whole have learned to overcome a cultural fear of Fall, we as individuals can learn to overcome our more individualized fears of failure. Spring will come again, and we will rise again. One follows the other, and everything changes. Knowing that, we are better able to embrace now as now, and that helps us to live life, moving forward.

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