My friend and I were driving down winding country roads when I noticed her voice didn’t contain the excitement brought on by the possibility of food trucks at a local vineyard like it should. “Fall is supposed to be so exciting—with pumpkins and beautiful leaves—but it just makes me so sad now.”
She said she struggled to put it into words. The memory was a good one: the way fall reminded her of her childhood when she rode bikes through the crisp air to her neighbor’s house where they would invite her inside for dinner.
The weekend before, she brought her new husband to her parents’ house. The same home she grew up in. They took the old bikes for a spin to the same neighbors she grew up next to. The neighbors invited them inside for dinner, pleading, “Oh, please stay.”
Later, she cried to her husband about how bittersweet the whole taste of the old fall felt. She hated that those days ended. And it felt like a life that her husband could never fully grasp, a childhood memory out of reach to anyone.
The whole conversation made me a little weepy, the way she whispered that no one else could relate to the past that still lived inside her, the way she stuttered in confusion about how to put into words a bellowing feeling left to brew deep inside of her for so many years.
So I told her about the train. Maybe to relate to her, make her feel better. But really, I’ve needed to tell someone about the train for years.
Five years ago, I bought a house near trains. Trains shook me.
My aunt had married and had three boys, twins and one younger. I always called them “my boys,” with pictures of me over the years squished between the three of them towering over me. They grew up in Pennsylvania, just a short car ride from our home in Maryland, so we spent fall weekends visiting, selling hot dogs and buying guinea pigs from Mennonites and other neighbors at garage sales, wrapping up in fleece blankets with hot chocolate on the cold metal bleachers under the Friday night football lights, learning back handsprings in the grassy backyard lined with aging trees.
They lived near a train. A train that rumbled down the tracks and whistled in the distance.
It felt silly to try to shape words around the sound of the train as we drove around those twisting roads lined with trees barely starting to change colors. And yet, I still tried.
For years, I heard the train by my new adult house and it shook me in a deep, bellowing place that left me breathless. When the train passed it felt like I boarded it only to be dropped off at one of those Pennsylvania fall weekends with “my boys,” the same cousins who have now grown up and moved away, building families of their own. A real train couldn’t take me back there anymore.
For years, I heard the train and had no idea what to do with this memory that turned into sadness for the fall, sadness for the vanished season. I looked around wondering if anyone else heard the train, if it shook them.
On that day in the car ride to the vineyard, I tried to tell my friend about the train, and about the realization that I’ve spent most of my twenties writing the same blog posts over and over again about a longing for home, a longing for the return of the season of tree forts and bonfires, a longing for a God with a passion for seasons to show up.
In Christian culture, we’ve turned this word “season” into something worth mocking. I cringe when someone says, “God’s really teaching me patience in this season of life.”
Where have the brave people gone, the ones with the courage to admit that it sucks how seasons change and take our breath away? Where have the beautiful people gone, the ones with the courage to cry out over steering wheels turning around winding roads that when seasons vanish, we want answers about where they went and how to get them back?
I told my friend that we had to keep moving forward, remembering the feelings of the past while also building a life with a new version of all that we miss. We agreed that we would talk to each other about the fall, about the way the changing seasons hurts, even when we stumble over how to vocalize the weight of the sadness.
Cover image by Ales Krivec.