Like an artist's hand or the sustain pedal on a piano, summertime has a way of smudging the sharp edges of things, making everything a little less pointed. We emerge from summer with our ties undone, our hair down, and our gait a little slower, only to collide head on with fast fall. Fall arrives and moves with a rapid-cadenced march into winter, whipping summer's supple forgiveness out of everything. Although fall makes its militant appearance every year, its always nearly impossible to hear its battle cry through the thick sun-heated air of summer, so that each year, it hits us head-on, startling us like a bang in the night.
By the end of summer, we are usually ready for a change. Summer's relentless heat soaks through us, loosening our bindings until we don't feel any different than the close air. It's a frustrating, mind-dulling season that makes the oft coldly brusque essence of fall seem like a sharp slap in the face and a blessed call back to the land of the living. Suddenly, there are endless books to read, endless classes to attend, and an endless academic world beyond the wheezing fan in the window. We soon gladly quicken our steps, leaving summer, the season of yawns and sighs, behind us, lulling about in its own swamp of haze.
At the beginning of each season we herald the change. It goes without saying that Chicago's climate is one of intense extremes; it sometimes seems as if there are only about four beautiful weeks of respite in a year determined to institute misery in a mind-boggling variety of painful ways. Like one with stomach pains wishes instead for a headache and a man with a pain in his foot longs for his to be a shoulder malady, in Chicago, the soul-numbing power of the winter wind seems preferable to the throbbing summer heat that pounds against the interior walls of our skulls. For a week or two in fall, heat and chill mingle, then the rug's pulled out from under our feet and we fall wind-whipped into the savagery of winter. Yet for a week or so we grab at the change, pressing it close to our hearts, eagerly adapting to the ways of the coming season.
Steeped in the wool and college-ruled paper essence of fall, it's not hard to forget the easy days of summer. We have a tendency to bundle everything up into one mass, so we denounce heat, boredom, and mundane summer jobs in one fell swoop. What's unfortunate about this survivalist method of discard is that the good is lost with the bad. Easily, we forget the compassionate slowness of summer and in the midst of fall, we lose perspective. As we swathe coats and scarves close around our frames, we become wrapped in our own worlds. Little things are blown out of proportion and a missed paper deadline can seem like the end of the world.
When we start to let little things bother us, we open the door to catastrophe because while we stare in dismay at the crack on the front stoop, we don't notice the porch collapsing in the back. Inherent in the world of academia is the danger of losing the outside world and thus, perspective. Too often has the following logic been used: By lapsing in the world of academia, the "real" world can be avoided. Academia is not the answer to the troubles of life. Rather, it should be the study of life. And, like any studied matter, one must immerse him or herself in the subject. In summer, we just live. But beginning in the fall, we adopt another life, occasionally forgetting what's out there. Sometimes, we forsake life for the life of the mind, which, in the end, is only a small fraction of a whole.
So let the changing season be an exercise in division. Learning to separate and sort through the pieces of a whole (while, importantly, leaving the integrity of the whole at peace) is a skill that takes a lifetime to obtain. It is, perhaps, the difference between being able to mentally disjoin something and separating one's emotions on the matter. Separate the miserable doldrums of summer from the gentleness of its pace and its sympathetic break from hassle and book-induced stress. During the summer, we take things easy and let the lines of life get a little smudged. We should be forgiving of others and ourselves and take it easy during the rest of the year. There's nothing wrong with embracing fall along with "the life of the mind," but don't forget the life of the soul, and the life of the heart, and the lives of others.