An open road.

The afternoon light has shifted, as it always does in between the harvest and hunter’s moon.

I’d forgotten what it looked like, this fall light, until suddenly it was there one day, not long ago. I walked into the kitchen, mug in hand, with the unconsciousness of habit and noticed the warm reflection on my kitchen table with the kind of surprise that felt like seeing an old friend at the grocery, the way we used to do, in other times.

Ah, there you are, I want to say. Where have you been?

It’s a magic trick that never fails to delight, this intangible, predictable change in the light. It’s dependable in the way of weather and tides and plants, which is to say that it can be counted upon absolutely, but not with any precision.

I could look at this soft October light and lose track of all time, of everything. It is especially comforting now. The light shifts, the leaves change, the world carries on and lulls us along, utterly normal.

Only, of course, nothing feels normal. There’s solace in that, too, I suppose.

It’s an extraordinary gift (though it may feel like punishment) to be jettisoned from the Sirens’ song of inertia into some frothy living. Those stinging prickles are proof of life, and there is comfort in being alive.

I ran into a 20-something friend (an acquaintance, really) in the parking lot of our neighborhood market, about a month ago. I asked what she was doing in this part of town, knowing she lived far away. She said she’d been called into work, a temporary assignment, just for the day.

How wonderful that must be, I said, to be back at work after months of furlough. I was being cheerful, encouraging, optimistic. Her news was proof that normal had not died.

Actually, she said, what she’s discovered these past many months is how much she loathed what she was doing, how she hated her work, how she was bored and unfulfilled, every day. She’d spent the furloughed months studying and taking courses and getting certified in a completely different field, and what made her most excited, what motivated her to rise from bed each morning, was the promise of a different future.

Another friend, a divorce attorney, has been postponing and postponing and postponing our catch-up calls, too busy these recent months to keep up with anything outside of her work. It turns out, she said, there are a lot of people who’ve discovered in the pandemic that they really didn’t want to be married after all.

What I’m going to do after the election, said a third friend (one close to my own age), is garden. I’m going to give money to school board candidates, and show up at city council meetings, and grow roses. I’m tired of the weight of the whole world, she said. I want to start over, here at home, in the spring.

And then there is my friend David, the octogenarian atheist who is in love with birds and his fourth wife and imagination. He has become sentimental in ways he didn’t expect, wasn’t prepared for, as he embarks on his ninth decade.

He came for lunch, he and his wife, on a mild day when we could sit outside, on my porch, far enough apart to keep any lurking plague from taking root.

“This is a special occasion, kid,” he said. “We should take a picture, because I don’t think I have a photo of us together, and because the only thing I regret even a tiny bit from my long life is that I didn’t take enough pictures of ordinary things.”

He is the most hopeful person I know, my friend David. He laments the death of the planet, the extinction of birds, the destruction of civility. But he is hopeful, nonetheless, as he clicks frame after frame in the soft autumn light.

The light is shifting, as it always does, predictable as anything and promising safe harbor in its beauty. It feeds a craving for old patterns and routines, a return to something familiar.

But within its warmth lies an opening to something new. And so, reader, let us find comfort in that, too.

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