There is a moment at the end of summer when the light changes.
It is a sliver of time so thin, that unless you’re looking for it, you’re sure to miss it. In this moment, the sunlit nets cast upon the waters of the world are reeled in. With them, the brightened hue, the flaxen bloom, the drenched blindness of balmy days, all begin to slink backward and disappear like lemonade twirling down the drain.
What remains, are the rays of a sun more mature in her glance. The morning’s shadows grow faint, edged with a dusty gold. A dim glow laces the leaves, the red tone of a burning hearth dying into the night.
Each year, I wait for this moment. And each year, its arrival stirs the basin of memories. What comes to the surface is almost always a memory linked to the tense excitement which marks the beginning of a school year. Chalk it up to spending over twenty years of my life enrolled in some type of educational institution – but to me, there has always been something academic about this turn in light; about what arrives on the autumn wind.
This year, as I watch the leaves melt into rusty hues of auburn and gold, my mind wanders to a sleepy college campus buried in the woodlands of the northeast.
I have just left my dormitory in Hausdoerffer Hall. I cross the street to meet with a satisfying crunch a sidewalk littered with leaves. I am making my way to Bliss Hall, the English department’s building (aptly named) for my weekly Shakespeare class. Our current read is The Merchant of Venice. I go prepared, a heavily post-itted and underlined copy of a Norton Critical Edition jostling in my backpack.
Following a few others, I enter the building, the smooth stairs familiar to my feet, the well-known creak of the door ushering me inside. The lounge is filled with students, no doubt spending the between-class-lull catching up on assignments. In one corner, Marlowe and Yeats stretch lazily across an armchair. In another, Rumi and Wordsworth exchange glances at the edge of an oak table. A gust of wind sends leaves rattling against drafty windows; the sound of their rustle blends in time with that of turning pages.
The smell of books permeates the air, and, like fever, quickens the pace of my blood.
When I started college, I was (like most brown kids I knew) a Biology major. But then I took my first English class, and everything changed.
While I enjoyed my science classes and performed reasonably well in them, they rarely, if ever, made me feel alive. But sitting in a classroom reading, reflecting, and discussing great works of poetry and literature? That felt like a fresh breath of air after a very long time.
I don’t know why it came as such a surprise – I should have been expecting it. After all, I had spent the majority of my childhood tucked away in hidden nooks of the library. In hindsight, I had been blindly unaware that books (and everything attached to them) were something I could pursue in higher education or could fit into my professional goals. But they were. And they did.
Of the many crossroads decisions I have had to make in my adult life, this is one path I do not regret following. And so, I changed my major to English. Not once did I ever look back.
I enter my classroom, and for the next hour or so, we take turns performing some of the most poignant scenes from Shakespeare, which leaves a deep aching in my bones. In the afternoon, a sharp discussion on Austen’s satirical wit has me smiling as I pack up my things. And in the evening, as I head to the library to catch up on the week’s readings, thoughts on human nature settle on me, heavy, as Mary Shelley drifts across my mind.
Striding up the library’s winged stairs, I settle into a quiet corner with a stack of books. A professor’s brisk voice reminds me: “Fifty pages, per book, per day. Stick to that, and you won’t fall behind.”
The hours dwindle into dusk.
My mind is a raft caught in the beautiful crash of a timeworn typhoon. The moral anguish of Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment enthralls me. The historical weight of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass shakes my heart. The rhythm of my spirit moves with Frost’s verses, like the steady pitter and the patter of softly… falling… rain…
Rain, dashing against the windows, shakes me from my reverie. I register with surprise the raven-hour of night which surrounds me, punctuated only by the scattered glow of lamplight in the smoky glass.
Over half a decade later as I sit, watching the leaves change, this is what I remember – classrooms where the spirit widened – and this is what I am grateful for – professors who sought to sharpen our intellects, and who may never know just how much they altered the course of my life.
Such were the days, which overflowed the chest and dilated the lungs with a blessing immeasurable in its stature and unrequitable in its thanks – the ability to expand the reaches of one’s mind through learning.
Such, the memories which come like secrets each year, revealed by degrees in the hidden moment when the light changes.
And such, the moments which flutter and twirl and gather like leaves, making their home in that place where it is always autumn – golden, at the edges of my mind.