The photo above is of me, and dates back to September of 1963. That was my first day of kindergarten, and my first ride home on the big yellow school bus. I can still remember the canvas-y smell of that skirt, the rubber-soled squeak of those shoes on linoleum. In my hand I have a work of art to add to the special folder that lived in the bottom drawer of our marble-topped hallway bureau, the first of many submissions to the schoolwork portfolios my mother faithfully kept, one oversized envelope per child. I look at that photo and I see my childhood self, excited to be moving on up, in love with the start of a new adventure.
Which is, at the heart of it, why I still love Septembers. But it’s not just the beginning of the school year that did it for me, then or now. I’m still struck, every end-of-summer, with a longing for the seasons to change toward clear and cool—especially days like today, when the weather gets unbearably sticky. I can’t help but look forward to ski season, when daylight ebbs. I’m ready for new beginnings. Then as now, I’m anxious to start reading ahead, to see what’s around the bend.
This September, I’m feeling a curious sense of urgency to turn the calendar page. 2013 has been a year of extremes, the highs being delightful, the lows…well, you know. I hate that sense that I’ve been wishing this year away since before it even started, the same way I used to wish away the dark winter hours between dinner and bedtime, when my preschool boys were wound up and cranky and unwilling to go nicely and quietly to sleep. It’s not 2013’s fault that I want to put it in my rear view mirror, or better yet, switch to a new make and model. But here we are, post-mammogram-bad-news-recall-wise. So yes, let’s recalculate, and start over, for good measure.
Truth be told, new beginnings can be a little bit daunting. New shoes and new pencil boxes and protractors were fun when I was in grade school, but new teachers and new kids and new subjects I might not be good at, like long division—those were scary. These days, it’s the ongoing continuum of dealing with change that’s unsettling, from student to worker bee to mother and volunteer and caregiver to…well, what am I these days? What’s next? Where do I go from here? In the immortal words of Mark Twain, “I’m all for progress, it’s just change I hate.”
Yeah, I do, too. Except that I don’t. I still look forward to the promise of a new ski season around the bend, but more than ever, I’m looking forward to starting anew, just because. Back when E was about to finish high school, I was busy clearing my non-profit plate—getting off boards, co-chairing one last fundraiser, finishing up my duties around capital campaigns and writing assignments, so I could specifically make space for a new path. I didn’t know then that my notions around where that new path might lead would be interrupted by a curious mix of alternate “next things,” filling the plate I’d just emptied out with items not always of my choosing. Some have been the by-products of tragedy, some a function of health issues and family ties, some the happy luck of renewed friendships and happenstance. I wouldn’t be writing these posts, for example, or walking around with my phone in my pocket thinking about what the subject of my next photo essay might be, had it not been for that mammogram result. I wouldn’t have corresponded with a long-lost freshman roommate, and wouldn’t be writing book reviews, were it not for the kismet of re-kindled connections. I’ve gotten some gifts, some perfect pearls of love and kindness and opportunity along the way. I’ve also gotten some lemons. I am so lucky, on so many fronts, I know that above all. And at the same time, I’m getting good at making lemonade. It’s a huge cliché, but the truth of it is, you learn to deal with what you’ve been dealt. And then, god willing, you move on.
We did the requisite dormitory run this week for our younger son, filling up the back of the station wagon and lugging plastic boxes full of bedding and books and clothes and sundries to a new room, glistening with fresh paint and new possibilities. Meanwhile, our big guy is moving out of his little twin bed in our house and into an apartment with three other recent college grads, a classic combo of new-to-the-city hires and hand-me-down furniture from the last crew that passed through their multiple-roommate rental. As with nearly everyone’s renting housing in these parts, their lease runs from September 1st to September 1st.
And just this morning, after passing by these posters, all shouting “Try this! Take me!” to new students whizzing by, I slipped in the side door at Memorial Church and enjoyed the first morning chapel service on the first day of the new school year. Drew Faust spoke briefly and eloquently of new beginnings, of aiming to be both ever true to tradition, and ever ready to accept the changes that a new world bestows upon us, ready or not. By definition, we begin again, again and again. And then we gathered together, and sang.