I am not one who ruminates much over the past, but once in a blue moon I get nostalgic. Today was a good day for that.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year. There is something about it that echoes in the core of my being. I cannot say precisely what it is, even though I’ve tried. It is something more easily evoked than described. My sister and I used to call it the Fall Feeling. For us, the first day of autumn was not marked by the calendar. It was marked by the day that one or the other of us excitedly announced that we had the Fall Feeling that day. The first hint usually happened in August. Maybe it’s something in the sound. Not just the obvious sounds like the sound of the geese. There is a change in the sound of the wind, a change in the sound of the insects. Maybe it’s something in the angle of the sun and the fading of the leaves. There is a shift in the light, a shift in the color. Autumn dances through memories of my childhood up to the present day.
The sour-sweet wind, that’s what Dr. Suess called it. The Grinch and all sorts of spookiness came out with the sour-sweet wind. I was genuinely terrified of ghosts when I was young. In fact, I lived in horror of skillets because skillet sounds so much like skeleton. I remember dragging my feet once when my mom told me to get the skillet out of the cupboard. I knew it was an ordinary pan, but who knows what sort of invisible horrors might attach themselves to an object whose name sounds so much like skeleton. I have to laugh at myself looking back on that now. I’ve grown rather fond of skillets.
I’d like to blame my older siblings for my fear of the ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, but the truth is: I’m just as much to blame. As soon as I was old enough to understand that my siblings were intentionally freaking me out, I began retaliating with tricks of my own. But more often we freaked ourselves out simultaneously by mutual consent. I have fond memories of one autumn evening under a full moon. My sister and I had put off doing the chores until after dark. OOO… It was spooky… There were bats… it was almost Halloween… Something was moving in the shadows… It grew nearer and nearer until we could see what it was… We ran away screaming, “THE BLACK CAT!” Our pet had come slinking out of the shadows. We ran away in a delicious fake terror that, nevertheless, made us feel a little spooked. Naturally, we decided it was a good night to go on a walk.
Although I no longer fear the terror of the night, the Fall Feeling has followed me through life. I have sought to understand it and even to understand it academically. I remember the awkward feeling I had going to my English professor and trying to explain that I wanted to write my thesis on The Lord of the Rings because it gave The Fall Feeling. I figured that this master of grammar and footnotes would think I was crazy, but to my delight he knew what I meant and handed me an article on The Idea of Autumn, which C.S. Lewis refers to in Surprised by Joy.
My thesis changed shapes multiple times before I ended up writing on The Lord of the Rings as a fundamentally Catholic work. Writing it crystalized my faith and shaped my spirituality. By the end of writing that thesis, I started to be able to articulate that the Fall Feeling ultimately is a longing for God. The simultaneous feelings of a warm, cheerful home, full squash, nuts, apples, family, and friends and of cry of the migratory birds as they fly on the wind, these are but a foretaste of what it means to be gathered into the home of our Heavenly Father—Creator of the Stars of Night.
About 25 years later under a blue moon on the Eve of All-Hallows, I sit here haunted by the ghost of autumns pasts. Memories of my life flow by, bringing with them more memories. There are so many tales I could tell of my adventures throughout this Middle Earth, and of the people who wove in and out of my tale—a strange tale my life story is, full of multiple there and back again journeys. My journey down a moonlight path has not always been an easy one, yet I’m grateful for it. And I am grateful for the myriads of people who have crossed my path or journeyed down the path with me for a time. Perhaps they walked beside me on the path. Perhaps they walk beside me still. Perhaps a fragment of their thought reached me across decades or centuries or millennia. It is my hope that we shall come together at the end of our journey “to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Happy All Saints Day.