For me, the very nature of autumn forces a self-reckoning: an honest cataloging of change. The world is transforming in ways that signify both renewal and loss, as chlorophyll landscapes disappear along with our enduring childhood fallacies that summer will last longer than it ever does, all while our internal rhythms adapt to a welcomed shift in pace and dazzling revision of nature’s palette. The fading warmth signals better fishing, less crowded trails and more forgiving afternoons.
In fact, I love this season more than any other, and its accompanying existential anxiety is perversely part of the appeal, presenting an annual opportunity for recalibration: How does my own life fit into this cycle of metamorphosis? What is inevitable and what do I control? Am I pleased with my goals and decisions, my habits and convictions?
Those questions weigh heavily every fall, emerging in late summer and lingering until I navigate their contours to arrive at a semblance of answers, if I ever do. But never has my autumnal self-reflection been more active than this year, when colliding urgencies have demanded that I recognize meaningful change for what it is: a polarization of possibilities; a vast ocean of potential roiling between the shores of what’s happening now and what could arise from it all. The spectrum is at once haunting and heartening.
Amid the uncertainty and impatience and worry, however, I’ve found that I have a secret weapon, a lens so clarifying that I can see through the dense walls of doubt: my two boys. Whatever happens, I have them. Those questions of purpose and direction, of contentment and meaning, have satisfying answers no matter the myriad variables. Happiness awaits me each day, even if it’s shadowed by the gloom of world affairs.
My oldest son, Fisher, turned 4 years old in August. We threw a pandemic party, with a highly abbreviated guest list and outdoor restrictions. When my youngest, Gus, turns 2 later this month, the reveling will be similarly muted but no less gratifying. These formal acknowledgments of their growth are also private celebrations of my own. I am who I am because of them, and I no longer want to be anybody else.
Of course, the more vital equation is what I give to the boys, not what they give to me. Parenting is never easy, but pandemic parenting has been the most formidable challenge of my life: a fragile balancing act of competing responsibilities, unforeseen obstacles and relentless second guessing.
I have relied on my wife’s deep well of human insight and love more than I can adequately express. She is the sure-handed captain on this surprise-filled journey, guiding us through the turbulence. We agonize over the repercussions of our circumstances, the potential impacts on the trajectory of our boys’ development, but her compassionate strength ultimately wins the day. The boys will be fine. We’ll all be fine. We’ll be fine together, because we are together.
I will never forget 2020 as the year of the pandemic and paradigm-shattering unrest, the glitch in the programming of our comforts. Yet, someday the harsh details will be building-block anecdotes in the story of our family, of Fisher and Gus, of the truths that matter most. The remembering will at times be difficult, and the year’s societal legacy may prove even more troublesome. But while the photographs will inescapably be placed in the context of all that happened, the boys will be in them: smiling and discovering the wonders of life. Holding the phone, unseen, I am too.