I envy people who know when it’s time to leave. I admire their resolution, their lack of sentimentality as they pack up their things and say sincere but prompt good-byes. They don’t linger at the threshold, prolonging the inevitable, but instead offer a brief farewell and are gone. They aren’t tempted, as I am, to hold on to a moment too long, unable to let go until the moment has become distended and a little embarrassing. I envy people who are too busy moving ahead to the next challenge to waste time romanticizing the past. I wish I were more like that.
It has become very familiar to me, this five-mile stretch of Route 2A from its intersection with Route 128 in Lexington to its intersection with Old Bedford Road at Merriam’s Corner. It was almost a decade ago that I started working at Concord Academy, and started driving this route almost every weekday afternoon from September to December, and then again from March to May. Most days, it took less than fifteen minutes to travel from the noise and heavy traffic of the four-lane highway to Concord’s quaint town center and the private school whose buildings overlook the Sudbury River. Those fifteen minutes were a time to leave the corporate world behind and turn my mind to the day’s planned activities with the kids. It was usually enough time, but not always. There were many days when I wished that the five-mile stretch had been longer, and that I’d had more time to gather my wits for the task ahead.
The drive also afforded me a chance to take in the gradual changes taking place along the Battle Road trail. In the fall, I watched the foliage turn from green to yellow to brown to bare. In the spring, I watched the snow banks diminish, and guessed at how many weeks it would be before my beloved trails would be ice-free and run-able. Although I never had time to stop, there were plenty of days when I’d think about it. On beautiful October afternoons when the leaves were turning to gold and the gentle undulations of the Battle Road beckoned, it caused me an almost-physical pain to continue driving, but the kids, you know, the kids would be there at 3:00 and what did I always say about the importance of showing up whether you felt like it or not?
On Monday, I was driving Route 2A again, headed to a meeting at the school. As I gazed out at the woods, I found myself under the spell of a landscape that looked nothing like it had only a few weeks ago. Now instead of foliage to enjoy, the woods were empty and skeletal, and the trees stood out as ‘bare, ruined choirs’, in the words of the poet. Instead of crisp autumn air, a thick fog enveloped everything, the result of perversely mild December weather. “Autumn,” I thought, “is taking its sweet time saying good-bye.”
Ah yes, the autumn of 2015, the favored guest who stayed long past the end of the party, the season that remained dry and mild long after the calendar told us that we ought to be shivering in our winter hats and coats. Why on earth should a runner ever complain about a season such as this, a season that has made so few demands on us and has allowed us to frolic on in short and t-shirts long into December? And yet, Autumn’s long good-bye stirs in me uncomfortable meditations about my own over-cooked farewells.
All of a sudden, it seems that everything in the world is moving on except for me and this damned nice weather. At work, my old colleagues are long gone, but I’m still there without any clear idea of what I’m doing or any clear plan to shake myself free; at school, the fall season ended a month ago, but I’m still hashing it out for lessons learned; in running, I stubbornly stick to training habits that increasingly make no sense for me and lead to pointless injuries; in my personal life — well, maybe that’s too much sharing, but it’s more of the same. As a trivial example, over the past weekend, I tried to do a thorough house-cleaning, and I found it comically difficult to part with things I’ve almost never used and never WILL use. Around me the evidence piles up that I’m afraid to let go of things material and otherwise, fearful, perhaps, that I’ll be overcome with regret at their absence tomorrow.
Maybe everyone has these thoughts at the end of the year. Maybe it’s normal to look backward, not forward, as we attempt to settle our accounts. Maybe it’s human nature to put off needed changes for a little longer, especially when the weather hasn’t bothered to shock us into packing away the summer t-shirts. But I realize those are just excuses for dragging my feet. As I gaze out at the dank woods along this familiar stretch of road, I know that I’m the guest who hasn’t realized the event’s winding down, is over, actually, and it’s time to go… time to hit the road, bite the bullet, take the plunge, cue the music and usher the award-winners off the stage, just — for the love of god — do it.
And still I linger, a hapless prisoner of my own indecisiveness and these damned 50-degree days in mid-December.