The True Meaning of the Equinox

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The leaves started falling last month. That’s not unusual. It was during a week of lulled temperatures after a generally hot summer, so it’s no surprise the trees were confused. It’s been a slow fall process. There’s still a lot of life on the branches and the temperatures during the day still aren’t so bad – room temperature, give or take, so the outside is almost as comfortable as the inside.

Almost. On some days, like today, it’s humid. On most days it’s very windy, but that’s a weather phenomenon year-round (and as such, not really a phenomenon). The humidity and wind, when combined with things like September’s farm activity around the perimeter and construction activity in the city core, make for some foul smells – shit, burning crops, poured asphalt – that make me grateful for the refuge of ventilated shelter (made possible by the same hard working farmers and builders creating these smells).

In spite of the warmer temperatures, even when not humid and relatively wind-free, the decline into autumn is evident from the shortening day. The sun is no longer up hours before I am, so I’m not awoken by light then comfortably half-asleep for my favourite kind of rest afterwards. The sun doesn’t stay up past the evening clockwork of the car blaring dance music in my back alley to hang out with my Russian neighbours every night at 9. I’ll have to start running in the dark after 8 in the evening, and/or in the morning before 7, trusting that I won’t get myself hit by a car in my entirely black outfit.

It’s still a few months before daylight works a mere eight hours like the rest of us, but we’re not yet equipped with a thick white coat of snow to reflect the light from the moon, from its reflection of the sun that’s westward ho. Past studenthood there remain cruel reminders that summer’s gone and everyone must realign themselves to the solemn industriousness of the Protestant ethic. In my case it doesn’t help that this year I start off the season with the steep learning curve of a new job at an entrenched organization founded, reluctantly, with the same spirit of paternalistic colonial efficiency.

They say life is short but it’s not short enough to remember year to year what each season feels like and accept it for what it is. I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder to a substantial enough degree outside roughly manageable depression and general wintertime blues, but it bums me out to see the light fade and with it the excuse to put something off until later. Does Judaism start the year in this season to get the lull out of the way early? (I know this is only applicable to the northern hemisphere, but the residence of Jews in New Zealand and Uruguay is vastly overwhelmed by the millions of people/thousands of years they’ve lived in Europe, North America, and Palestine…as is, coincidentally, also the case for me.) The calendar we live by today, and like to make the rest of the world live by too, starts on the more optimistic note of can’t-get-much-darker. Again, that’s short-sighted with no apparent lesson learned year after year.

I should be prepared for this. But like any other annual occurrence it gets me the same way every time. That is the true meaning of the equinox: we never learn.

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