A blessed dark­ness – fall – will soon be upon us all

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH BRUENIG The Wash­ing­ton Post

Long sum­mer days are over, on the wrong side of this year’s equinox. They’re the stuff ad­ver­tise­ments and mu­sic videos are made of: ven­tur­ing abroad, chas­ing ro­mance, stay­ing out late. But they’re drain­ing, too, hot and per­sis­tent, full of noise.

This past sum­mer was par­tic­u­larly loud and sti­fling and clut­tered, with the fever pitch of po­lit­i­cal theater bleed­ing into the fu­ri­ous heat. On some in­ter­minable af­ter- noons, it was hard to tell if I owed my pe­ri­odic headache to the news or the weather or some aw­ful com­bi­na­tion of the two.

The news won’t stop. This sum­mer, there were tri­als lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive, feuds, scan­dals, the seething sense of mis­trust that per­me­ates all of pol­i­tics now, and the omi­nous pos­si­bil­ity that things will feel this way for­ever. None of that is likely to van­ish any­time soon. But the longer nights of au­tumn bring some com­fort.

Fall ar­rives like ex­tended twi­light. The hot months are bru­tal for all kinds of rea­sons, and among them is that the ob­sti­nate white light of day ex­poses, at times, more than what’s tol­er­a­ble. Peo­ple pour into the world, and it al­ways seems there’s some­thing to say, or some oc­ca­sion de­mand­ing con­ver­sa­tion. With pol­i­tics par­tic­u­larly po­lar­ized and en­gulf­ing more and more of our con­ver­sa­tional ter­ri­tory, self-ex­po­sure is al­ways on de­mand: You must pay at­ten­tion, you must be present, you must have a po­si­tion and make it known.

But in au­tumn, the evening of the year, a grad­ual hush falls over na­ture, its hu­man parts in­cluded. In the dark­ness, it’s eas­ier to avoid sum­mons to pub­lic at­ten­tion. The day’s events re­main, but the am­bi­ent sense of ex­pec­ta­tion that thrums through­out the day­time eases. When it’s dark out, the world it­self seems to hes­i­tate. There’s sanc­tu­ary in that pause.

It can, ad­mit­tedly, be a lonely peace. Al­ready the cafes with pa­tio ta­bles are string­ing up lights along their ter­race walls to lengthen their evenings in a los­ing bat­tle against the fall. If the dark doesn’t herd the droves off to their sep­a­rate spa­ces, the chill even­tu­ally will. Un­der those con­di­tions, thoughts tend to turn in­ward – and I can’t imag­ine a more pre­cious trea­sure, now, than a long and un­bro­ken thought. The last one feels as though it came a very long time ago.

Maybe this an­tic­i­pa­tion of avoid­ance is a kind of cow­ardice. There’s no such thing as too much truth, af­ter all. You can’t be too aware of your sur­round­ings, nor too ded­i­cated to re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zen­ship, nor too con­cerned with the di­rec­tion our shared na­tional jour­ney is headed in or the im­pact it will have on those around you. Es­capism is a real temp­ta­tion; I feel it, and I un­der­stand.

The po­lit­i­cal fire is go­ing to keep blaz­ing. But there are still the day­light hours for that, just fewer of them. And the long nights aren’t for­ever; they’re just for now. Right now they seem like a spe­cial mercy, which would be fool­ish to re­ject.

There is a beauty to au­tum­nal dark­ness – the soft­ness of the night sounds and the cool air, the way shadow pools in even sparse thick­ets of ur­ban trees, lend­ing them the grav­i­tas of deep woods. But more than that, there is the respite hid­den in them and the way we need it now. “The sum­mer de­mands and takes away too much,” the poet John Ash­bery wrote, “But night, the re­served, the ret­i­cent, gives more than it takes.”

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