Recently, I had a birthday. Not a significant one (insofar as anything as ephemeral as a day can ever be significant – but you know what I mean); it was just another day, here one moment and gone the next. I’m lucky insofar as I was born at my favourite time of year (I wonder if the two are connected? Hmm) and I love these days and weeks of change, when autumn becomes winter, leaves begin to brown and fall, and the days grow short. There are those who believe that the lack of light during the darker months can lead to mental health problems and depression – a condition called S.A.D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder – and, while believing absolutely that such a condition exists and can be hugely debilitating, sometimes I feel like I have its exact opposite.
Long summer days make me anxious. The encroaching cold darkness of winter, however? That I love. Does it make me odd? Well. Maybe a little.
A few days ago, I bundled the baby up and out we went for a walk, a lung-and-leg-stretcher, and it was beautiful. I took a few photos of our surroundings, because I thought the trees looked particularly pretty. Of course, the version I managed to capture didn’t do justice to the light-filled, colourful mess that appeared before me in real life; it serves to remind me, though, of a moment that has now passed and will never be experienced again. The baby will never be exactly that age again. Neither will I. In fact my age differed by a whole digit when these photos were taken. This day will never be lived again.
This season – the one we’re starting into – will only happen once.
Time ticks on. Over the past few weeks the world has become a darker place for some, including me. I am dismayed by the turn world politics has taken into a harsher, colder regime, and I am fearful for the future. Every generation has something which scares it: for me, as a child, it was the threat of nuclear war. It seemed nebulous from my perspective, but from my parents’, it must have been horrifying. My father remembers a vivid dream he once had, in which he roused the whole house, urging my mother to get us children dressed and ready to run for the hills, because the ‘enemy’ was coming. The bomb had been dropped. The tanks were rolling up our street.
Of course, it was only happening inside his mind. But, thirty years later, he still remembers it.
Thirty years have passed, and now I am the parent. Now, I am the one who has a child to dress and care for and who has to worry about the world changing dangerously out of my control, and who doesn’t know how to keep this child safe in the face of what seems like an inescapable darkness. So I walk, my baby safe in a sturdy pram, wrapped in blankets and muffled in a hat, tiny fingers pointing and a little voice calling ‘Birdie! Tree! Wow!’ and I tell myself: time ticks on. This day will pass, and the next, and the one after that. With luck, time will bring me and my child with it, twigs in the flood.
When my child is the age I am now, another threat will be facing the world. Another darkness will be enveloping us. My child may have children by then; I may be living, or I may not be. Either way, the dark seasons will keep returning.
Time will keep ticking on.
The leaves will keep turning brown, and falling, and regenerating the soil.
Days will shorten. Then, they will grow long again, only to grow short once more.
And all we can do is keep our children safe, remember that love is stronger than anything – including death – and that all will pass into history one day, including the tyrants and despots who sell our future for profit, who bluster and blast their way into power simply for the thrill of being there, and who gamble with all our lives.
I hope things will turn out for the best. I hope the world I hand to my child will be better than the one my parents worked to hand to me. I hope, and time ticks on, and that is all anyone can do.