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When I was a teenager, my barber was a kind and generous woman who cut hair one day a week to keep up on the small town’s gossip. She was my grandma’s, my mom’s and my sister’s hairdresser, and, as was my nature, growing up in a household dominated by women, she became my “barber.”

She gave me my only access to someone who had lived in California, and she dismissed it out of hand, saying only, “I enjoy having four seasons.”

I think of that now as the leaves transform to their fiery reds, oranges and yellows down our tree-lined street in our Midwestern neighborhood. The drop in temperature confirms to me that fall is upon us. And, now that we’re back from four years in California, I finally understand the true sense of what she meant — the changes in weather, the cyclical nature of the seasons, feel comforting, like it’s time to bury something and allow the winter to do its restorative work in clearing space for something new.

This is perhaps too grand an impulse, and too poetic a notion, for what ultimately amounts to a series of sensory inputs that remind me of home — that feel familiar and comforting and give me an excuse to eat rich foods and stay inside reading.

But seasons as analogy for change has been used so often for good reason. Each spring there’s rebirth, each summer there’s celebration and abundance, each fall there’s preparation, then each winter there’s absence. It feels time-honored and true.

Plus, who the heck ever felt grateful for something that they didn’t have to struggle for, at least a little? The sour, the bitter make the sweet so much more profound. The winter’s harsh cold gives summer’s warmth so much more joy, and allows a frozen heart to melt with compassion. There’s truth in the cycle because it is life itself.

But there’s obviously more in the story of my hairdresser. She provided a glimpse of another world, an adventure that she went on with her husband, who worked for a major defense contractor. They raised two kids away from family, until deciding that they wanted to return. The seasons, her love for them was a simple manifestation of that.

For a boy in a small town, where he would be one of only 67 to graduate from a high school class that took in students from four nearby communities, it provided a possibility that life, with all of its tangles and confusion, could take me to places unknown, to adventures that I couldn’t imagine. But to achieve things beyond what I thought possible, to learn and grow, to become ready for difficulties and feats that were wholly unknown to me, to accomplish anything outside of my hometown’s 1,200 person community, I had to embrace change, both in the world and within myself.

I try to meditate on these moments, when confronted with change, in its invariance. After all, it seems like the only thing in life that remains is change, its consistent and never-ending cycle of new.

I try to consider the story of the Taoist farmer, and take a moment to believe that sometimes the great clock, and perhaps the Great Clockmaker, runs far better than I can realize. And in those fleeting seconds, I can’t help but feel grateful and humble for all that is this life.

Author of Populace; former journalist, farmer, librarian, burger flipper, bagboy, groundskeeper, political organizer, and shill.

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