Returning to campus from fall break fills me with a range of emotions. I cannot help but feel a brief sense of sadness as I depart from home — nerves building as the return to coursework inches closer.
But as I stumble through Chicago and kill time while waiting for the departure of the South Shore Line Train, all is forgotten. Settling into the taut leather seat on the train, a wave of relief rushes over me. As I exhale, the tension in my shoulders releases. This train ride is far from luxury travel, yet I cannot help but feel at peace as music pulses from my earbuds for the duration of the ride.
Head leaning against the smudged glass window, I look on, watching the towering buildings fade into quaint, residential neighborhoods, and then into vibrant orange-tipped trees. I have a special connection to the trees clad in changing leaves.
Originally from Texas, I rarely had the pleasure of experiencing the changing seasons. Back home, leaves quickly fade from bright greens under the summer sun to dull, lifeless browns enveloped by our humid, heavily hazy winters.
The fall leaves follow from Chicago to South Bend, their bright smiles lifting me. Yet their glow is bittersweet, as it marks the inevitable approach of the winter months.
While it is no easy feat to adapt from the hot Southern sun to the cold Midwestern winters, the plummeting temperatures were not my biggest shock. As my first South Bend winter approached, it was the ever-present formation of gloomy gray clouds that I was not prepared for.
During my first semester at Notre Dame, I would rise for morning classes, knowing that I would be greeted by familiar rays of light following the end of the period. But as the semester progressed, my old, shining friend grew distant, more reserved. Some days, he would come out briefly at midday, before quickly sheltering himself a few short hours later. His greatest change came in November.
I would begrudgingly make my way out of bed, slipping into comfortable clothes before trudging to class. As the session concluded and I made my way outside, the sun was nowhere to be seen. Somber shadows covered the campus. Even the golden gleam of the dome seemed slightly muted.
Life without the sun was difficult. It felt as though my close friend was struggling, and I could do nothing to help. Subsequently, I started to experience the effects of his fleeting behavior. I woke up tired, felt groggy in class and wanted nothing more than to retreat to my room. This energy could not be replenished by artificial sources. I craved natural sunlight, counting down the days until I could taste it once more over fall break.
But the gratification was brief, as I returned to a shadowy existence. It is difficult to experience the beauty of the fall leaves without remembering how quickly it will fade. Yet, as my train powers from a large urban hub to a college town, I take in the scene, appreciating the present and knowing that its value comes from its ephemerality. Even as the leaves begin to fade, grow weak and eventually separate from the feeble twigs that connect them to a formidable tree trunk, I find brief comfort.
A year from now, I will be sitting on the South Shore Line, still thinking about home, catching my breath from the run to the station but finding peace in the present beauty of fall.