Nov 1 is a bit late for that, pity the Celts didn't make it Sept 1. But their lives were oriented toward survival, not giving up their daily Starbucks latte or using their gym membership. Late autumn meant the end of the agricultural year: The crops had been harvested and stored, animals slaughtered or herded to winter pastures. It wasn't so much that winter was a new beginning for the Celts—it's a modern interpretation to call it their new year—as the harvest represented a significant ending, with survival ensured for another winter.
It's not perfect, being midway between Sept 1 and Jan 1, but I always use Nov 1 as a take stock time. Where are my priorities? What do I want to accomplish by calendar year's end? What part of my life hasn't yet gotten an autumn reboot?
There's not much for an atheist to work with there. My take: Since there are no spirits, no afterlife, and no way to divine the future, it is critical not to waste time. Life is heartbreakingly short and if your basic needs for the winter are taken care of—food, a roof over your head—then your priority should be on making the most of what little time you have. The Celts' Samhain festivals included feasts, pranks, and sex; it wasn't all slaughtering roosters and sprinkling blood on the threshold for good luck. (Note to the Piranha Chickens: You don't have to worry, that's emphatically not my thing.)
Over the summer, a former work colleague died of breast cancer. She was exactly my age—our birthdays were days apart. She had everything going for her, both personally and professionally, and I was terrified by someone my age being struck down. Of course, people my age and younger die of illness, accident, or violence every minute but it affects you profoundly when it is someone you know.
When I went to my sister's wedding in July, I met my cousin's best friend. They'd grown up on the same block in London and were close friends since primary school. She and my cousin had big plans to celebrate her 50th birthday the following week. The wedding had a Steampunk theme and when I complimented her on her outfit, which included a black lace corset, she joked about how it showed her "shark bite" but she didn't care. I figured she must be joking and gave her a sceptical look. She said she'd had breast cancer 7 years prior and she called the scar her shark bite. Fast forward to a later conversation at the reception when I asked her what she did for a living. She said she had been made redundant about 6 months prior and decided to collect her pension rather than look for work. I was puzzled how she could collect a pension at 49. She replied matter-of-factly that you can do so when you have terminal cancer—hers had recently returned and spread. We've kept in touch via social media and I have been following her bucket list travels with a mixture of fear, pity, sadness, helplessness, and rage at the brutal unfairness of life.
My mother had breast cancer 14 years ago. Luckily, she hasn't had a recurrence (not that she is inclined to be tested, and I can't say as I blame her) but her friend, who has been helping her in practical matters, this summer suffered a recurrence of her own breast cancer. It has spread to her bones and she, too, is ticking off items on her bucket list.
Again, I know that the plural of anecdote isn't data—statistically, the fate of these women should not worry me any more than the horrors I read daily in the news—but these illnesses and deaths have touched me in a period when I was already making major changes in every area of my life, and considering priorities and plans. Do I need to move back to NYC or another major city for better work prospects? Am I going to be able to have children? Is it too late to achieve any of my life goals? I feel a desperate sense of urgency to do all the things; I've wasted so much time already. I've been a lifelong procrastinator, both personally and professionally. I've always put everything off, figured there was always tomorrow, always next year. Anaïs Nin said, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." I figured mine would kick in someday.
we're not promised tomorrow. Time to banish those demons (Maybe burn a little rosemary? Or was it oregano? Damn, I forget. How about I just simmer some mulled wine on the stove instead?) and accomplish something.
So, that's my mid-autumn check-in. Happy Halloween. Carpe diem.