There’s something magical about October, the month when everything begins to change. I’ve experienced the month many times before, but the magic of this pause between the liveliness summer and the harshness of winter never seems to stop fascinating me. Every year I fall in love with this month, this pause between the extremes, all over again.
Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s because it’s a pause in extremes that I love it so much. Generally I tend to be a pretty extreme person (either obsessed or completely disinterested), which is possibly why October — a month symbolic of in-betweens, of pausing and savoring what’s left of warmth between winter sneaks in — is so appealing to me.
A few years ago I came across Robert Frost’s “October,” written in 1913, for the first time. Not surprisingly, fell in love with his words (how wonderful it is that they can be so relevant and wise 100+ years later!), and this year I’ve come back to them again.
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost —
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
The poem is, on an obvious level, a metaphor for life and death. October (and autumn in general) is symbolic of the waning years of life, when you come to realize how little time might be left and you long for time to slow. But we need not be in the final months of life’s year to take these words of wisdom to heart. At any age, we can read Frost’s words and notice how autumn, and October in particular, is a reminder to take each day slowly, rather than rushing quickly to the next.
Just as the leaves do in October, the leaves on our trees will surely change from green to yellow to orange and brown; they will someday let go and fall to the ground. Our winters will one day arrive. But this isn’t meant to be disheartening. Rather, the awareness of death, of the time when our leaves will rest on the ground beneath the bare skeletons of our branches, should inspire us to live more slowly, with more meaning.
October serves not only as a reminder of our own morality, that uncomfortable truth that the brightness of our lives will someday fade, but it also brings to mind the ever-present concept of change. Like the world outside our windows in October, we, too, are changing, aging, shifting from one color to the next. We are, like it or not, fading, our outer colors dulling a bit with each passing year. This annual reminder of mortality shouldn’t be depressing, but instead should inspire each of us to live with more purpose.
Frost’s poetic musings remind us that, yes, death is inevitable, but his positive twist on this timeless sentiment prompts a life-affirming belief that we have the power to make the most of every day. Though our branches will ultimately be left bare, right now we can strive to enjoy the leaves still remaining, to take in the brilliance of their colors (many of which are more beautiful than they were in spring or summer!) and enjoy them.
October’s changes also remind us that, though we cannot control everything — our trees may face damaging gusts of wind, leaf-soaking rain, and white-hot, sun-soaked days, and we were unable to choose the location in which our tree initially grew — we can control how we view the leaves still clinging to our limbs. Whether you’re a still-full tree, leaves tinged with yellow, or almost completely bare, that last leaf clinging bravely to a branch, we can appreciate what beauty (and time) still remains.
We cannot change the length of our days (imagine, though, if we could slow some of them down or speed them up!), we often have the chance to choose what we do with the hours we’re given. If we fill our days with purpose and meaning, each day will feel longer and more full. Frost notes that humans are not opposed to the idea of being fooled and, perhaps, should allow themselves to be fooled into living days that seem longer than they really are. Of course, the best way to fool yourself into living longer days is to live them slowly, with purpose, filling them with activities, people, and experiences that allow you to rest your head on the pillow at night knowing that you did, in fact, make the most of the day.
If we want to live more slowly, with more purpose, we must become find mist that Frost writes of, the mist that will slow the sunset, beautify the sky and, if even for a short time, slow the coming of the night’s frost. This mist is all of the things that make life worth living: the laughs shared, the hugs given, the work joyfully completed, the stimulating conversations, the kind acts, and loving moments. These things won’t slow time, of course, but, just like the mist, they will make it seem as if time is moving more slowly. They will take away some of the harshness of knowing that, inevitability, winter is coming.
Of course, finding this mist and choosing to live more slowly is no easy task. It requires effort and attention. It also requires practice. That’s what I plan to do this month: practice more mindfulness. You might think I’m always “positively present,” but even after all of these years of working on it and writing about it, I still struggle a great deal with staying present. I’m almost always in a rush, scrambling to cross things off my list as quickly as possible, and maybe you, too, feel as if you’re not living as mindfully as you should.
Living more slowly won’t be easy for someone like me, but I’m determined to let every October-related change I see around me — the changing leaves, the bright blue skies, the chilly nights, the delicious scent of freshly fallen leaves — serve as a reminder to me that life is not endless and, while I have no way of knowing when exactly my tree will shed its leaves, I can take comfort in knowing that, in each moment, I have the choice to be present, to notice and appreciate the colors still surrounding me.