Although I’m facing a late summer heat wave, and it’s still about three weeks away, the beginning of school makes me think it’s fall. It’s a strange word, “fall”: really a verb—action word!—technically also a noun. Kids can recite “person, place, or thing” in a heartbeat, but fall is not any of these, not even exactly a thing. Ideas are also nouns, but fall is not quite an idea. Yes, in most parts of the world the temperature and weather literally change. But seasons are also metaphors, and the idea of fall is the most powerful one.
Many people say they love spring. But spring is a cliché. Even the name “spring” sounds too eager to please, too self-helpy, archaic slang that should have gone the way of “keen” or “corking” or “moxie.” Warmer weather, longer days, shorter clothes, life in bloom, fertility symbols like bunnies and eggs , school almost out, and, if you’re into that sort of thing, resurrections. What’s not to like? Spring ahead, fall behind.
It takes a special person to love fall. Trees sense the cold and pull back unto themselves, sacrificing their own expendable body parts for the upcoming months of darkness to save the whole, like trapped animals gnawing off their legs. The leaves self sacrifice for the greater good, tiny reverse lifeboats abandoning ship, each a desiccated little martyr and hero.
We imagine that it’s the leaves that do the falling. But people also retreat in winter as well: into more interesting clothes, and the interiors of home and self, even more comforting knowing that it’s getting cold and dark outside. And some of us like the feeling of falling.
Our language reflects fall’s pleasant equivocality. We speak of falling asleep, as something that happens almost by itself, pleasantly passive even as millions actively take medication and work hard to achieve it. You’d think falling would be easy. Then, once we do satisfyingly fall asleep, many of have recurring nightmares. About falling.
We fall in love, the language itself shaping our understanding of life’s most delicate/ confusing/ overwhelming/ important/ wonderful/terrible feeling. Fall suggests the suddenness of love at first sight, the helplessness, lack of control, and even danger. I fell for her so hard. Sounds painful. Sometimes it is. Unlike real falling, but like falling sleep, trying to fall in love will probably prevent it. What would happen, though, if we did not fall in love, but, say, flew in love—or settled in love? Floated in love, or ran in love? Poured or drew or brewed or even stewed… in love? Crashed in love? When I met her, we didn’t dance in love right away, but gradually danced closer as we got to know each other. Once we fall into a metaphor, we lack the imagination to get back up.
Few of us have fallen in any serious way in real life, and if we did, it was likely a horrifying accident, not something we would wish for. And if we’ve not just literally fallen, but fallen in something, it’s even worse. What, other than love, can you fall in that’s not terrible? And why fall in love at all? Even if I try to change the image, love is still, metaphorically, something to be in, a container, at best; an abyss, at worst. But most of us pine to fall in love. Sometimes it feels good to fall, as so many amusement park rides simulate. And, in the words of Jeff Bridges’s character in Crazy Heart, “Sometimes falling feels like flying/For a little while.”
In some ways, though, the idea of the fall has shaped the views of our moral and mortal world. Last semester, when I taught Paradise Lost, students were struck by the sadness, but also the hopefulness, of Adam and Eve’s fall, their expulsion from Eden. Yes, the fall is bad. But,as the Angel explains,
This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of Wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Stars
Thou knew’st by name, and all th’ ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Nature’s works,
Or works of God in Heav’n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all riches of this World enjoy’dst,
And all the rule, one Empire: only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come called Charity, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt though not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A paradise within thee, happier far.
That’s precisely what’s better about fall than spring. The happiness is internal, not just external. it allows for paradise within. Besides, you can’t have spring without fall, can’t regain paradise without losing, can’t love or sleep without falling, and you can’t fall in something that’s not already deep. Spring—even Paradise—eschews fall’s depths.
The sunshine spring lovers love? It’s carcinogenic. The renewal of life? Life is a sexually transmitted disease with a 100% fatality rate.
Time: 60 minutes.
 And egg-laying bunnies. I shudder to remember the Cadbury Egg commercials showing a rabbit laying a chocolate egg. KIDS: if you see this is real life, IT IS NOT CHOCOLATE.