For many years now, my life’s calendar revolves around the three seasons: fall semester, spring semester and the summer. The Fall semester starts when everything is still green, full, warm, blooming. Slowly the leaves begin to turn yellow, then orange, then red or gold. The air is soothing with the sense of abundance, beckoning the coming harvest. Nature worked hard and accomplished a lot. It’s produced food for humans and animals, and it’s now in the mood for celebration. I try to catch this wave and energize myself for the semester and all it brings. A month or two into it, the air is getting colder, sometimes it’s raining. Pleasant summery breeze turns to a sharper wind by the end of October. The rich, vibrant autumn colors are fading; the leaves are falling. The first three weeks of November, between Halloween and Thanksgiving are tough. It’s grey, it’s bare, it’s somehow lonely.
My birthday falls around Thanksgiving, opening the celebration season, and all the lovely gatherings it involves. Although Nature has little color left by that point, Thanksgiving decorations bring the ginger-colored joy back– in pumpkin dishes, napkins, kitchen towels, plates, mugs, flower arrangements everywhere you look. My son was born three weeks after my birthday, which that year was the day after Hanukkah. The holiday’s lights and miracles mesh well with the birthday cake candles and a happy gratitude the occasion brings. Being Jewish, we don’t celebrate Christmas (strictly speaking), but I love seeing the colors and lights and gift wraps everywhere, and sharing the holiday spirit of joy, love and peace. And then we are ringing in the New Year with champagne, pineapple and a special cake.
And then January sets in, the midst of iced rains, snowstorms and gusts of wind, with strangely branded the “Spring” semester. The glow of the holiday season sticks around for a bit, then disappears into the routine. It can be really cold and windy or mild and gray in Pennsylvania. It’s winter, and yet the spring is just around the corner. I know it through the potted tulips beginning to appear in the stores. I also know it because the winter holidays have barely passed, and all Christmas decorations are turning to Valentine’s. Hearts, chocolates and roses (or all at once, in the form of heart shaped boxes of chocolates decorated with roses) are everywhere.
And then it gets tough again. The spring is near but not yet coming. Our spring break in early March is still gray and cold. By that point the semester is growing heavy, or perhaps it is the whole academic year’s heaviness. I’m waiting for April to make it all better again. We got married in April 1995 in the Mediterranean spring of Cyprus. When we went on our first anniversary to Prague, I saw orchids for the first time. Not in the exhibit or botanical gardens, but sold in gorgeous bouquets in the city square. My husband got me a bouquet, with the three long stems filled with dozens of white flowers with yellow and red centers, with its particular, almost bitter scent. I’ve seen orchids in many places since, in stores and shows in different parts of the world. It just so happens that the Central Pennsylvania Orchid Society has its annual exhibit the weekend that falls either right before or after our wedding anniversary. And so it became another new tradition.
April is when daffodils have bloomed already and lilacs are coming, followed by lily-of-the-valley (decidedly the best smell in the world). It’s green again and everything feels so alive. Our patio is getting back its garden table with an umbrella; I’d missed them so much since October. And the school year is winding down. It’s still going full speed just to end abruptly in the first days of May. Things need to be finished, ends tied here and there, but we all know it— summer is really coming.
The prophets of the summer, peonies, appear in our garden and everywhere else in town right around the beginning of June. Ours are dark burgundy, sugary white and tender pink. Heavy, fluffy heads full of petals are tipsy on the stems that are having a hard time supporting them. Like fashionable ladies on special occasions that have chosen just a little too elaborate of a head piece, the flowers are trying to find their balance in the occasional breath of the warm wind. Unapologetically bright, they are reaching out to the sunlight. They have no intention to hide; they are full of life. One stem may hold five or sometimes even more flowers. They will take their turns to open up.
Whether traveling or staying home, working or taking the occasional break, the summer is glorious. The vibrant colors are everywhere. The lilies in white, yellow, pink and red decorate the yards and streets. The green color bursts up in dozens of shades with trees and bushes contributing to the pallet. Butterflies and birds visit the gardens, adding yet more color. In June and July, the fireflies create a light show every night. The air is warm, the nights are starry, and it feels infinite.
But then August comes and although it is still very much summer, the night breeze adds a cool tone. Occasionally a red leaf appears on the maple tree or a yellow leaf dances down to the ground bothered by a sudden wind. School supplies multiply in the stores and the countdown for a new academic year is on. Our fall semester typically starts the fourth week of August, making it rather hard to bid farewell to the break and step back in when people everywhere are still very much in summer. But we love what we do (for the most part) and as bittersweet as it is to let go of the summer, the excitement to reconnect with colleagues and students, to meet new people, and to dive into the classroom prevails. And so we begin again…
Except, this spring semester is nothing like we experienced before. The students are gone; with the help of technology we are trying to maintain the rhythm, keeping at least some semblance of normalcy. The Universe pressed the gigantic “pause” button to get our attention. It developed an advanced course. One of the central topics on that syllabus is the idea of interconnectedness, all being one and one being all. Somehow, the idea that had resided in the spiritual realm is now getting a very practical and terrifying implication. We ARE one, as we are able to infect one another with a deadly disease, as we are able to support one another. We began this course with the most dreadful idea for most people– the idea of uncertainty. With the relative safety and abundance of the last hundred years, many people live the illusion of control; being in control of your day-to day life, adhering to the calendar and a daily routine. We are now learning to sit and get comfortable with uncertainty. Next comes flexibility. We had rigid rules and expectations, a clear sense of what needs to be done and almost as clear a sense of not measuring up to it. Perhaps the Universe is communicating to us that these expectations are not sustainable, and the requirements have been inflated all along. Next, we must learn empathy. Prioritizing under these extraordinary circumstances listening within, and to others over accomplishing.
The virus is an agent of change. We can no longer afford being oblivious to the planet we reside in and her needs. We can no longer proceed with the endless race after the benchmarks of success, overriding the previous records with ever-more-excellent results, while sacrificing our physical, mental and emotional needs in the process (yes, Academia, that includes you). We can no longer live by the zero-sum mentality that another person, company or a country needs to lose in order for us to win. We need governments that are capable to lead and consider things other than their own narrow interests and reelections. It’s about prioritizing cooperation over competition, content over quantity, and empathy over productivity. So many people are showing right now unimaginable resilience and the capacity to help. Medical personnel on the front lines of this disaster, parents taking care of their children while working, musicians recording and posting their performances, theaters translating their shows, tech companies offering their services for free. The list goes on and on. People show up with dignity and grace, reassuring one another that we will get through this and we will. But nothing, hopefully, will stay the same.