“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever.” [Isaiah 40:8]
October and I have always had a weird relationship.
It’s my birthday month, so it’s a good month – this year I turned 21, so it’s been an especially good month. But the “I’m one year older” aspect is only change #1 that October always holds. It’s overall just a change month, and it’s a happy month. But it’s also the month before November, which is the month that things typically start to slope a little downhill mentally and emotionally for me. So, October becomes my waiting month, in which I end up spending my time trying to live in the moment and enjoy the occasional Pumpkin Spice Latte I treat myself to and the bonfire smell when I walk outside most nights, but really I’m just holding on tight until the bottom falls out.
I don’t know what it is. I think the temperature dropping and the leaves changing and the nights starting earlier – it all just throws me off a little. I love it all, don’t get me wrong, but the voice in the back of my mind is telling me that as soon as these leaves all turn vibrant orange and red and yellow, they will turn brown, and they will fall off, and it will all just be cold and bleak and dead. And sad. And deep down I’m convinced that I’m just all too weak to handle the sad.
And the reason I know the leaves will fall off and die and the world will be cold and sad is that it happens every year. When I first dealt with depression, it was November of 2012. That’s right about the time when everything is cold and grey and gross. So naturally, in my head, every time the cold and grey end of November rolls around, that awful, sick, depressed feeling is supposed to come with it. Because if it the leaves die every year and it gets cold every year, shouldn’t I get sad and lethargic every year? Isn’t that the way it should work?
The answer to that rhetorical question is absolutely not. But I didn’t realize that until, honestly, very recently.
I was pulling into my parents’ driveway a few weeks ago, and I noticed the two big oak trees in the front yard were turning color again. It made me kind of sad, because when I was younger and lived there, they seemed like they changed so slowly. But now that I don’t live there anymore, the trees change drastically every time I make a visit.
When I left to go back to my house that night, I looked at the trees again, and the songwriter in me was flooded with lots of memories from those two trees. They are on either side of the driveway – big and old and sturdy, and they cover the driveway like a tunnel going into or out of the real world, depending on which way you’re coming. My sisters and our neighbors and I used to spend every day under those trees – we climbed them and swung from them and hid behind them and pretended they were gas stations along the “road” that was the driveway. And when the leaves fell from them, we raked all the leaves into a big pile and our neighbors brought theirs over in trashbags and we made an even bigger pile and buried each other in them. And when it got cold and grey and gross, we stayed inside mostly and drank hot chocolate, but when it snowed, we used the driveway as a divider and split into teams, one behind each tree, and had snowball fights. And eventually, the snow melted, and March came around, and we were back to climbing and swinging and playing “gas station”.
I’m 21 now. I can’t play under those trees anymore. I hardly even notice those trees anymore. But that afternoon, leaving my parents’ house to drive to my own, I noticed them, and I realized something: I grew up and forgot that you can use the cold, grey times for good too. You can use leafless trees for snowball fight barriers and sip hot chocolate while you wait for the cold months to pass. You don’t have to cry.
Every year, those trees change. It’s a paradox, really – the one thing that stays the same is that the colors of the leaves on the oak trees in Mama and Daddy’s front yard, change. They will change this year, and next year, and the next. That will always be that way. But I will not have a bad November or December or January this year and the next year and the next. The cycle of those trees changing remains the same every single year. But where on earth did I get the idea that I had to live the same October over and over again every single year? What kind of life would that be if that were true?
And so I left Mama and Daddy’s house that day with a smile on my face. There’s a Taylor Swift song that says “Time turns flames to embers / You’ll have new Septembers,” and I’ve never quite understood it until now. That lyric entered my head on my drive home, and I realized she has a point: You will, in fact, have new Septembers, and you will, in fact, have new Octobers and Novembers and Decembers. Actually, quite possibly, you will have better Octobers. And isn’t that an exciting and relieving thought?
So, those trees will stay. They will stand tall in their positions, one on each side of the driveway, slowly changing and changing back, every year. Every year is the same for them. I’m glad God made them that way – sturdy and constant, something we can count on, much like Himself. But the good Lord didn’t make humans that way. Every year is not the same for any one of us.
I’ll keep getting older and having new Septembers and better Octobers and better Novembers and so on. And maybe some years I’ll have worse Octobers and worse Novembers, and that’s okay. But those trees will stay in Mama and Daddy’s yard, and God will stay good. I will never go back to being young enough to climb or swing from those trees. But that’s the beauty of it. Even if sometimes you want to, you just don’t, you can’t relive the past. Because the more years that go by, the more stories those trees will hold. One day, my future children will swing from those trees and dig for worms underneath them and play gas station, and I can’t wait for that day. Every year has the potential to be better than the last. So I’m going to start hoping for that.
That night, leaving my parents’ house, I made a conscious decision to allow myself to be hopeful. And I rolled my window down, and I smelled a bonfire somewhere close by, and I kid you not, I stuck my whole head out the window like an actual dog. And I breathed it in so heavily because I couldn’t get enough of it. I want to keep feeling like that. I want to stop expecting the worst and allow myself to believe that this year might actually be better than the past ones.
So, my friends, I hope this October was better than last year’s for you. Even if last year’s was really good, I hope this one was even better. And if it wasn’t, if it was hard and messy and stressful, that’s okay. There’s always next year.
Here’s to new Septembers, and here’s to better Octobers. I hope you have lots of them.
Jesus loves you and so do I,