A flock of Canada Geese just flew over the house. Their familiar honking filled the air before they disappeared over the trees and the rooftops of our neighbors’ homes. I oriented myself and then realized that the geese were flying north instead of south; maybe they were just headed to the nearby Charles River. The thought makes me glad; I’ve always been a little sad to see the birds leave New England when fall arrives. Their departure makes me grateful for the species that stay year-round, the blue jays and cardinals and house sparrows.
But many of the birds leave, and September feels that way to me in general: as if things are leaving. Summer residents leave their cabins and cottages. The long days of sunshine are over, and the evenings spent listening to the crackle of campfires and loons on the lakes are a memory. The cabins are shuttered; boats are pulled into sheds, doors are locked up tight. Tourists leave the cities and return home, summer lovers separate, unrealized dreams of what summer might have been pass from hope to regret. Children leave home for school in the mornings; young adults leave home for college.
When I was a child I spent every August at a sleep-away camp in New Hampshire, and the approach of September always meant painful good-byes as the campers from Boston and New York City boarded buses headed for home. The rest of us waited for our parents to arrive and load our duffle bags into their cars. I’ll never forget the empty echo inside the large barn-like rec hall, now devoid of campers practicing their guitars or learning to paint or use the pottery wheel.
Life itself feels that way sometimes, like an echo of the things that once filled an empty space. But I guess the magic of life – and nature – is that something, sooner or later, shows up to fill the void. Once the humidity fades the cold air moves in. After the leaves are gone and the branches are bare, snow arrives to cover them with white icing. A friend moves out of town and eventually you meet and reach out to a new friend. A cat dies, and weeks later, just as the pain begins to ease its iron grip on your heart, you notice that the smaller, more awkward cat, the one who hid upstairs for months out of fear, has ventured into the living room to be near you on the couch.
Recently I finished my first book manuscript — an essay collection/memoir — and although the process of finding a publisher has just begun, I have noticed that the very act of finishing the project has left a void. So many weeks, months, and years spent working on each essay: drafting, revising, and revising again. So much effort gone into envisioning a manuscript, finding links between the pieces that made sense, determining what was missing, drafting the missing pieces, and then fitting it all together like a puzzle.
Whether my manuscript is accepted for publication or not, it is, in a way, like the child I never had. It has taken its first hesitating steps away from me and is venturing out into the world. And I have to watch it go, knowing that there is little I can do to control the course of what happens to it now.
And then, there is the void. What next? What now?
Sometimes, I’m discovering, the void surprises you. While you were focused on everything that you had, were doing, and hoped for — all the noise — it’s possible something else was waiting in the wings. And then, when things finally fall quiet, the scared little cat walks into the room.