“Have you ever thought that maybe the trees would enjoy seeing you change color too?” an advertisement for sweaters asked me as I looked through a clothing catalog. That was several years ago, but I think about the question every year as I pull out the plastic purple tub containing my sweaters and scarves. The shades of yellow, blue, and red being packed away neatly for next summer are so different than the autumnal shades on the chunky cable knit sweaters that I gradually go through, welcoming back each one as I place it on a hanger in the closet.
This is how I celebrate the fall equinox. By changing color, too. “I changed color for you,” I’ll say as I walk past a tree in all the golden glory of early fall just to ensure she hasn’t missed my own new color palette.
I’d wanted to do something a bit more this year to celebrate the fall equinox. I’d meant to put some research into it and maybe choose something that felt me enough to try incorporating it into my own private welcoming-my-favorite-season-of-them-all ritual.
“I missed the fall equinox,” I said glumly to my husband last night as he crawled into bed next to me.
“But that’s the nice thing about no longer being in your old paradigm,” he replied. I was raised in a religious paradigm that was seeped in legalism and guilt. “The fall equinox isn’t going to get mad.”
“But the fall equinox didn’t get mad before,” I said. “I didn’t even know when it was. It was demonic.” In my old world the observation of the equinoxes and solstices was seen as spiritually scandalous. Those were days for the Wicked Witch of the West and her gang; they were when all the dark and terrible things that hide in the shadows and under your bed come out to play.
“I mean that you don’t have to feel guilty about things like missing the exact day,” Ian said. “You don’t need to be legalistic about it.”
“I know,” I said as I rolled over in bed. There was no need for emotional flagellation or legalism, and I knew it. I’m sure the fall equinox would be understanding. But I still felt a bit sad. I mean, I didn’t even have time to take out my sweaters. That was going to have to wait for the next day.
This morning I sat in bed sipping my hot Tension Tamer tea (which, based on how much I drink it and how tense I tend to be, should really just be named after me). I could see a couple of trees out the window that had practically overnight developed red highlights. I thought about how they always change color, right on cue, even when I’m a little late to the party. I thought about how they don’t consciously think about pulling out their own autumn wear; it just happens, sometimes almost overnight.
And then I thought about how much I’ve changed, and how sudden the change feels.
In John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars one of his characters describes falling in love like falling asleep; it happens slowly, and then all at once. This slowly and then all at once feeling is certainly true for falling in or out of love, and also true for falling in or out of faith (with a person, religion, hobby, or most anything else). And it also applies to growth. I remember when I was little I’d try on a pair of pants one morning and my entire ankles would be showing. “My pants are too short,” I’d inform the parental units, to which the reply was usually a surprised, “Already?”
I’ve changed a lot over the past year. I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I know that I made some deliberate choices towards self-care and freedom, but I also just changed in that slowly-but-then-all-at-once way, too.
I just finished reading artist Mandy Steward’s memoir Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. I’m a fan of her art and I’d worried that I’d waited too long to read her book. When it was first recommended to me, I was thrashing with God. I was thrashing with Christianity. But somehow, I’m not entirely sure how, I changed. Sort of the way people fall into or out of love. They don’t mean to. It just happens. The tectonic plates inside them shift ever so slightly leaving their internal landscape altered, transformed.
I was afraid it might be too Christian-y for me now and that it’d even be triggering. But for me, because of where I’m at in my own journey, I found it healing. Mandy’s memoir is so intimately written that sometimes it felt as if I had stolen one of her old diaries. Or maybe one of mine.
It was strange while reading it to realize just how much I’ve changed. Mandy writes, “It can be a rattling thing to realize that what you thought you had figured out about yourself is really not you at all.” Rattling indeed. Sometimes I feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, unsure which side is up or down or anything at all. All I know is that since I first noticed that white rabbit, my white rabbit, and decided to chase after him, my life has never been the same.
However, unlike pulling out my winter sweaters, some of my internal changes have felt strange and uncomfortable, as if I’m adjusting to a world where I could suddenly grow or shrink at a moment’s notice. And maybe I can.
Sometimes it feels as if everything I’ve ever said or written was hypocritical because it’s not what I’d say or write now. It’s not who I am now. Mandy writes regarding this, “I am not being hypocritical if I fail to believe today what I believed yesterday. I am being hypocritical if I fail to admit today that what I believed yesterday doesn’t really seem all that possible anymore.” She continues, “In other words, I am not a hypocrite for being someone different today than I was yesterday. I am a hypocrite if I say I am the same today when I know full well I’m not” (emphasis mine).
People are never static. Mandy was changing, and already had changed tremendously, when she was in the middle of writing her memoir. And I know she’s changed a lot in the years since its publication. When I got to the point in her book where she told a friend that she would never get a tattoo (she’s now the owner of three tattoos, with plans she says for a fourth), I thought of all the nevers I’ve said. And how many of them have come true. Changes. So many changes.
The trees and I might enjoy flashing our new autumnal colors at each other, but there are a lot of hidden changes happening inside the tree before she suddenly pulls out her glorious shades of red. Changes are happening—slowly, and then all at once. From green leaves to yellow, orange, and red. There are changes happening. Can you feel them? Maybe I didn’t miss the fall equinox this year. Maybe being in tune with my own changes is the most fitting way for me to welcome autumn.