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Eat Reese’s, light your fire

Katherine Khorey | Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A few days ago I was passing through the very busy sidewalk between the main gate of Trinity College and Dublin’s pedestrian shopping area. It was a cool afternoon, damp-aired but not raining, and the sky, I’d noticed earlier, was a few shades lighter than the sidewalk. I was looking down at the sidewalk now, watching people’s shoes as they passed – women in this city have some pretty awesome boots – and admiring the gray slabs of pavement, when my eye caught a patch of dingy gold laid in a gutter.

It was a small, trampled-down pile of leaves.

Very briefly I stopped walking.

Then, with the human traffic at my back, I started again. As I walked, I finally looked up. I saw an entire tree whose leaves had gone ochre.

I thought, “Wow. It’s fall.”

And then, “Really? Seriously? Fall? Already?”

See, we only just started class this past week. For the entire month of September, Notre Dame students at Trinity have done next to nothing resembling schoolwork. So maybe it’s understandable that the first third of autumn had slipped past me unnoticed.

Don’t let this happen to you.

***

Of course, there is no part of the year, not even the nastiest depths of winter, that should pass by us unnoticed and un-experienced. At two o’clock on a snowy January morning, for instance, when someone downstairs sets their bag of popcorn on fire and the harsh blare of the fire alarm yanks you from your snuggled deep sleep, you can still find beauty and meaning even in standing outside, barefoot in the slush, for 20 minutes. At the very least, you can laugh at your more unfortunate dormmate who was in the middle of a nice hot shower when those clueless freshmen fatally mismanaged the microwave.

But autumn, in which the setting off of the fire alarm would be admittedly much less dire (I’m told it’s unseasonably warm in South Bend this year), deserves acknowledgement as a turning point as well as a season. It’s the beginning of the school year, and it’s the end of summer. Enjoy it for what it is, but don’t forget what it all means.

For many, it means enjoying football season, the thrill of experiencing either disgrace or glory on a weekly basis. Ditto the spirited roar of the pep rally or voluntary lack thereof. You live in the midst of a legendary heritage; by all means continue to carry it on.

Though you’ve carried through September already, and now September has flown there’s another aspect of fall to enjoy, and reflect on.

This is, after all, October. Halloween looms before us.

***

I think the aura of Halloween makes October a time of purgation. When I was little October was a time to get ridiculously excited about wearing costumes and getting scared: much later, when I got involved with the haunted attraction business, it was a time to get ridiculously excited about wearing costumers and scaring other people. And of course there’s more to Halloween, and the surrounding season, than that: The cool dark neighborhood streets made unrecognizable by decorations, the sudden influx of free Reese’s cups, the helping little fairies and Buzz Lightyears throwing beanbags in the church gathering hall, the sitting in Spanish class imagining what food I’d bring to a picnic at my great-grandmother’s gravesite, etc,.

That these things, as well as your own images of October (and early November, if you’re fortunate enough to have actually attended family picnics at your great-grandmother’s gravesite) should be cathartic is hardly unsurprising. Halloween did originate as the day the living paid tribute to the dead; now the customs of this time of year allow us to explore our own mortality.

So this October, keep exploring. Dress up. Hang cobwebs and lights around your door. Dance. Drink (sensibly, and preferably something interesting). Eat Reese’s cups, Smarties, pumpkin pie and caramel apples (we don’t have these things in Dublin), and provide a large selection of the best goodies for trick-or-treaters. Find a party to volunteer at. Brave the Niles’ Scream Park. Treat yourself to laughter, creativity, adrenaline, hangovers, smiles, joy. Whether you’re watching a kid’s face light up as you drop a Twix into their plastic pumpkin bucket or refurbishing a strictly-functional function room with black and orange crepe paper or facing death in the form of the chainsaw-wielding zombie who’s just jumped onto your hay wagon, cherish that moment as one that proves your physical, fallible, soul-granted humanity.

Next month, you may be grateful you’re alive and blessed: the month after, you may celebrate that life and blessing run higher and deeper than we can, while on Earth, understand. But now, October, the middle of fall, is the time to really feel what being alive means.

It’s the time to remember those who’ve gone before us, both the people and the summers, and to enjoy and anticipate the time, the loved ones, and the life we have now and will have a while longer.

January’s not far away. Look up. The leaves are blazing now.

Katherine Khorey is an English major and Russian minor spending her junior year abroad in Dublin. She’s sorry if this column was a bit ponderous, and promises you something completely frivolous next time.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.