As I turned onto a street leading into my neighborhood Sunday evening, I suddenly felt a gentle feeling of familiar warmth and well-being.
It felt like the inviting call of a fireplace and family. It felt like comfort and safety and love. It felt like the excitement of casting away old things and starting anew.
That was the sensation deep in my brain and that’s what it felt like as those signals spread to my heart. But it was really just the scent of someone burning leaves nearby. My brain and heart filled in the rest, because I’ve come to associate autumn with everything good about home and family — everything I want and need the most — and burning leaves are among the obscure triggers for those feelings.
I love autumn. I love everything from the first of October until the start of the new year. All the things about those three months combine to give me feelings of comfort and hope — along with blind faith that something better lies just ahead.
As I stepped out of my car, the sound of my shoes crunching through the dry leaves — brown and gold and red all around me — reinforced the feeling. I don’t know where the smell of burning leaves was coming from. I’ve never burned leaves in my life. I’m not sure why anybody does it. But I smelled it enough growing up that this is one of those triggers for this time of year.
Scents and sounds and sights such as these are powerful for me. As much as I love words, these sensory experiences trigger things in me more easily than words can. A breeze blowing fallen leaves around as I crunch through them is another of those triggers. The sight of Christmas decorations slowly lighting up at homes all around me — one by one as we get deeper into December — is another.
I need this season of harvest every year. Without consciously knowing it, I’ve settled into counting on each autumn as a time to clear things away in my own life. Every year at this time, I’m coming to a reckoning of what the year has been. I’m mentally clearing the books. I’m considering what progress I’ve made. I’m forgiving myself for my mistakes. And I’m allowing myself to feel hope that what comes next will be even better.
A cynical person might say I let myself off too easily each year, but the truth is that self-forgiveness and starting over are the only ways we can really deal with ourselves, because we humans are creatures of cycles.
In the Hebrew scriptures, we’re told that God decreed a Jubilee year once in every 50 years. The book of Leviticus tells us that slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and lands which had been lost would be returned to those who had lost them.
Everyone was given a clean slate to start over.
If Jubilee gave the entire society a fresh start, the annual repeating pattern of Nature does the same for individuals. We can each experience a personal Jubilee. We can free ourselves and forgive ourselves — if we dare to do so — and we can start with a clean slate for the coming year.
I haven’t accomplished everything I had hoped for in 2018. I haven’t been as financially successful as I’d planned. I’m not as close to the future I want as I had thought I would be. I haven’t found the love and family which I so desperately need.
But I can’t take those disappointments with me into the new year. I have to start over. I have to wipe the slate clean and give myself permission to hope and to feel blind faith. These sights and these sounds and (especially) these scents are all part of that process. They’re like little rituals which clean out the temple within and make me ready for something new.
So I welcome the burning leaves in the distance. I welcome the crunch of dead leaves under my feet. I welcome a slight chill in the air. I welcome the sights and sounds of approaching Christmas.
These things tell me it’s time to start all over again. They tell me it’s time to hope for love. They promise me that the past doesn’t have to be the future.