Bittersweet nightshade

Today is Labor Day, the holiday marking the official end of summer in the United States. I suppose this should be a bittersweet time: the beginning of the end as the freedom of summer settles into the to-do lists of fall. The turn from August to September marks the season of back-to-school, late harvests, and worrisome thoughts toward winter: how high and deep will this year’s snow fall, and how costly will this winter’s home heating bills be?

When I was married, I used to dread the onset of autumn even though it’s my favorite season. My then-husband suffered an undiagnosed (and thus untreated) case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, so the span of time from our anniversary in November until his birthday in March was an emotionally rocky time. Whenever the heat of summer broke and the nights turned cool and soothing, I’d feel an upwelling of silent foreboding: would the mood swings come now or later? At exactly what moment would I return home from teaching, looking forward to a break in tending others, only to find my then-husband harboring some unforeseen emotional crisis that demanded more tending?

Lost Matchbox car

These days, when I come home from teaching, I know my emotions are the only ones I’ll have to manage, and that’s a huge relief. J loves winter and thus relishes the onset of autumn, the labor of occasional snow removal being less sweat-intensive than the regular burden of summer lawn care. September marks the start of my busy season, with back-to-school bringing another brimming crop of both online and face-to-face students. When I was married, I used to lament in September all the things I’d failed to do in summer, but now I live with far fewer regrets. There is a time and season for leisure and a time and season for work, and I welcome each in its balanced turn.

My face-to-face classes at Keene State started last week, my online classes for SNHU start tomorrow, and it feels good to be back to work even though I taught a steady course-load during the summer. Teaching is both a profession and vocation for me: it’s what I do, so it feels good simply to do it. I love autumn in part because it’s New England’s most lovely time and because the weather right now is perfect: sunny and warm by day and cool and comfortable by night. The start of a new school year brings the optimism of new beginnings: once more, a chance to re-visit and revise past experiments, a fresh start. Where in the world is there anything bittersweet in that?