It is this time of year again: the harvest is over, the kids are back in school, the fragrance of fresh apples perfumes the grocery stores, and in New Mexico the pungent, smoky smell of roasting chile peppers signals the beginning of the fall season. It is that pregnant time of year when the light becomes more transparent, soothing, almost loving; when the equinox tilts toward the long nights of winter, which make some people feel melancholy; when we look backward and forward to get our bearings, readying ourselves for what comes next. It is that bittersweet time of reflection and introspection on the personal, communal and national levels.
Personally, we take stock of our health, wealth and happiness; and not only ours, but our families’ and friends’ and nation’s. No spreadsheet is needed for this, just a subjective ballpark of how we feel, of what might be keeping us up at night and how our retirement accounts had fared. And we make our resolutions for the upcoming seasons for well-being and for becoming better persons. In some ways this is a cathartic process of cleansing, distilling meanings and making plans for the time to come, which – according to recent research – our brains are more prone to do in the fall than in other seasons.
A lot has happened in our communities since last fall. Our economic well-being had finally surpassed the pre-Great Recession level, and that is a lot of comfort. More of us are employed, the rate of unemployment is down and we make and save a little more money. And that is a lot to smile about. These trends seem poised to continue, and that is even more about which to be happy. And here in New Mexico, the green and promising shoots of recovery have just begun to show. On the other hand, several major hurricanes brought about much misery and destruction and upended the lives of millions of fellow Americans in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, providing each of us an opportunity to lend a helping hand.
Nationally, we have a new president in the White House, a president who is an unexpected novelty for most. And like all the new and unexpected, people left and right and in between are wary, expectant and even ecstatic about him, and worry about how his health care initiatives might change their health; his tax reform, their wealth; and his other public policies such as immigration and social services, their happiness. All realize that these are pivotal times that could change the macro terrain of their lives, pull the rug from under their feet, or stabilize it with a mat. And while this may hinge many into total contentment, many others might be unhinged and take action or even take to the streets to preserve what is good and right for them.
As for me, my wife and I start the awesome fall season by buying a large burlap bag of roasted chile peppers; their poignant fragrance takes us back a full year. We clean, rinse, chop and bag the green peppers in small Ziploc bags to freeze and use until next fall. And we drive to nearby Apple Valley southeast of Albuquerque to pick apples off the trees and, when back home, slice them, dip them in honey and taste the sweet promise of the turning of the year, which people like me celebrate as Rosh Hashana, a new year. In the process, our minds become engaged in the personal, communal and national aspects of our lives and look for ways to make them better, repair them. Such are our modern expressions of the Days of Awe, but deep down the tradition is still one of reflection, introspection, the promise to be better and improve ourselves, our community and our country.
Avraham (Avi) Shama’s memoir, “Finding Home: An Immigrant Journey,” is available on Amazon.