Autumn is tricky. It’s a time of year when any piece of big, bad news has fallen into my life along with all those big, beautiful leaves.

One year, a few days after Thanksgiving, my first husband said he wanted a divorce. Another November, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I was driving on a highway in North Carolina when I got the call that my dear friend had died. Another fall, I got a difficult diagnosis and underwent a major surgery and spent the holidays recuperating, traveling back and forth to the doctors. Another October, my dog fell ill enough she needed a specialist, needed pills. I needed pills, too, that year, though nothing helped. It was the only time I wished I drank alcohol, and lots of it. Instead I faced just me.

Shuly Cawood

Shuly Cawood

Yet I love autumn. It’s still my favorite time of year. I love the colors, the chill, the softening, slanted light. I love the season’s sweaters, fireplaces, flannel shirts. And I love the brightness of our Christmas tree, which for a decade we’ve put up as early as Nov. 1 — my choice, not my husband’s, but he indulges me. He hauls it out of our garage and out of its box, sticks the “branches” into the metal pole, and I fluff the fake pine needles, decorate the tree with ornaments from my childhood and from our years of marriage, a perfect union of past and present.

But last year, of course, autumn was different. We didn’t exactly get bad news, we just kept living through what was by then months of pandemic isolation and uncertainty. No one knew how to gather safely, and even gathering felt selfish. My family disagreed on what was safe, and in the end, I served red lentils for Thanksgiving and forgot it was a holiday. I forgot the Christmas tree. I forgot to celebrate. December came and it wasn’t until mid-month that I even remembered that a major holiday was looming. It felt too late, by then, to put up the tree, or maybe it was just that I didn’t care. The tree stayed in the box in the garage. We spent Christmas by ourselves, and it was like any other day.

This year, true to autumn’s fickle promise, my family faced a handful of medical issues, and off we went to so many doctor’s appointments I stopped counting. I worried at night but pushed that aside to tackle the day’s challenges. And now, it seems, we’re past them, or at least we’re on the other side of something.

And this year, on Nov. 1, I remembered it was time. I mentioned it to my husband, and I didn’t even have to ask: by evening, the box was in our den, and by the next day, the tree was standing in the corner like a long-lost friend.

There will always be trouble, but there will always be the other side of it. You just have to get there. That’s what I keep telling myself. Put up the tree. Dangle ornaments from branches. Tie the velvet tree skirt around the base. Count my blessings; celebrate the now; plug in all those brilliant, beautiful lights.

Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is an award-winning writer living in Johnson City. She is the author of four books, and she teaches online writing workshops. Learn more at www.shulycawood.com.

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