Sunday, September 30, 2007

Seasons of Love

I've been asked more than once to name my favorite season of the year. Enough times that for years now, I've had no trouble doing it.

My favorite season is: the beginning. I mean, when answering the question with regard to the calendar, those early days of every season when we first notice the change, embrace it even, as a welcome shift from something we've had enough of, finally, for at least one more year. Maybe that shift from autumn to winter, or from spring to summer is too subtle a thing to notice, really, a shift in degree more than kind. But those other two, we all feel, and most, I think, welcome. That initial bright day after the long, cold hibernation of winter when we notice the first green buds springing from gray branches and can finally step out the door without a coat and scarf, and the sun seems once again to hint at the days soon when it will light the world head on, rather than from around some cloudy corner. I like winter, I love snow, I find grey days, like Thoreau, more favorable for reflection. But, by the time spring comes, I'm ready for it. That's a real change, a beginning. The slide from spring to summer is a thing more subtle, insidious even. A first day may even escape notice; rather, suddenly, one day, we'll realize it's been summer for a week already, or longer. The same for that slide into gray and cold that doesn't so much mark the beginning of winter as let us know that we've been there for days or weeks already.

But autumn. Perhaps my single most favorite memory of the first home I ever owned is wrapped up in that beginning. I can remember sitting on the street in front of my townhome, the top down on a Carmine Red 1975 Triumph Spitfire, James Taylor's Dad Loves His Work in the tape deck, a glass of Dry Sack Sherry in my hand, and a cool breeze on my face. I probably sat there because, as yet, I had no patio furniture for my deck, nor even a couch for my living room, or table for the dining room. But no matter. From the deck, I would have missed the slant of the sun through the water oak and the rattle of the leaves on the pavement. Had I not been where I was, the smell of leather might not be so inextricably linked to those first days of fall for me.

Relationships have beginnings as well, but exciting as they are, I think I would say my favorite season in relationships must be autumn. Having survived the fragile excitement of spring and the turbulent storms of summer, those that make it to autumn are special indeed. Having made it that far, there is little doubt that they will last to the end of our winter as well. And just as with the calendar, there is something noticeable in those first days of a friendship's autumn, something softer about the light each brings to the relationship, something comfortable in the way an autumn friend wraps your heart in a blanket of acceptance. Like the cold air chilling the skin of your face while your body is safe and warm under a blanket at a mid-November football game, every other human interaction serves only to accentuate the warmth and safety of that friendship.

I closed an e-mail to one of those friends today with an expression, "Autumn hugs," that conflates both aspects of that season, calendar and relational, and that encompassed so much for me that I felt compelled to explain it. I share it here, only because, so far as I can tell, the limited audience of this forum hasn't expanded beyond a small circle of very close friends, all of whom can appreciate it. And though I may share it, the mental image it describes will always be inextricably linked to the friend that inspired it.

I think of an autumn hug as one of those moments we wish would last forever, outside on a deck in the slanting, yellow, muted light of late afternoon, paired glasses of some rich, buttery, cool chardonnay sitting on the rail, both persons in sweaters, melting into one another in no hurry, arms all the way around, one hand in the center of the back, the other gently stroking the back of a head, fingers entwined in hair, and a gentle, crisp breeze fanning that long hair across my face, the scent of which forms a medley with perfume, the just now decaying leaves and the hint of someone's first-of-the-season lighting of an upwind fireplace. A hug no special thing motivated. A hug that doesn't need to lead to anything else. The hug, the moment, the memory in the making of two hearts beating next to one another, is all. That kind of hug.
I will miss that this season.

And to accompany this rumination on seasons, I offer the following song from the musical Rent, which as soon as I hit "publish," I intend to watch, finally, having driven out to rent it between paragraphs above. Regardless of what the rest of this film does or doesn't have to offer, that one song is as good an anthem to friendship as has ever been written.

Here's wishing you all lots of those hugs.