This week was the fall equinox — the day that matches night — equal with 12 hours. It was very still that day … quiet and the changing leaves which have been coming right on cue now for the last few weeks, reflected the light differently, held onto it longer with the morning sun and the evening shadows.
It is the time now of the Jewish New Year — Rosh Hashanah and the 10 days of awe that end with Yom Kippur — where you atone for those mistakes of the past year in a variety of ways, to be forgiven, to hope the Good Lord writes your name down to be included in the Book of Life in the year ahead. Time to reflect upon a personal plan for another year of walking softly on the earth and fighting fiercely against injustices. And while this is not my faith per se it is the basis for all faiths.
It is the time of new notebooks for me — literal clean pages I give to myself. And sticky notes and 3×5 cards and giant white pages I stick to walls to write on. These are meant to provide clarity and purpose and organization for the overlapping concentric circles constantly increasing and competing for attention inside the cacophony of noises and voices in my head.
Different voices show up in the fall — those who have passed, of course, but those very much alive. They are the coaches who understand we are in serious training now for winter. We need to be gathering. Memories and projects and also refreshing our friendships. New stacks of books to read and lists of programs to view.
My companions, the birds, have been busy with their own fall flight plans, and they have never ever eaten as much as they have this past month in my yard. Friends who come to porch-sit have noticed the increased chatter and flutter of wings. In five-pound bags of varying selections — nuts; nuts and seeds; seeds only, I have gone through probably 300 hundred pounds of seed in the past month. To be fair, the deer and squirrels and raccoons have been part of the parade of fall visitors, needing to bulk up for the shorter days and longer nights ahead.
The death last week of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in some ways not unexpected — she was 87 after all and had been fighting various cancers for decades — but it was unanticipated right now. Like that favorite elderly friend in our life who we thought we would have more time with … and then suddenly we didn’t. Her groundbreaking work that in the simplest and most profound ways really did make women equal — in admittance to higher education positions, in the ability to hold credit in our names — are things I experienced in my lifetime.
In my late teens both my father, and then six months later my grandfather, died early leaving me with an inheritance I was surprised by. I married my high school sweetheart at 19 to break the bank trust that had been wisely set up. There were no guardrails left in place. I dropped out of college to major in motherhood. I had no idea that my husband was spending the trust and mortgaging it at such an astounding rate until I chose to divorce him seven years later in 1977. I discovered my beautiful home on the lake at Tahoe — I had paid for in cash — was mortgaged to 80% of its value. Our credit card debt was an equal crushing surprise and my department store accounts in San Francisco, which had to be in his name — also unmanageable.
I sold my beloved 6-year-old children’s boutique I had created — just to get out from under the debt. I ran away to Park City with less than $10,000 with my 6-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old brother in a tired Subaru wagon with a small moving truck driven by two friends behind us with all our things. And though there was talk of many things — like walruses and kings — the money was gone forever and the child support of $50 a month — not exactly supportive and never consistent.
I share this because these things would now be against the law, against so many laws that RBG stood up for and to and changed them so women could hold credit in their name and fight for support of their children with new language and allow women equal access to higher education. I did not meet her when she came to Park City a few years back for the Sundance Film Festival for the documentary about her life. I regret that my work that day kept me from a reception where I might have been able to thank her for her incredible body of work making this a more just planet. But I would have simply been another voice in the cacophony of others singing her praises. Still, I owed her much — as we all did.
So right now, we push all the reset buttons, including the thermostat. Soon enough we will even change our clocks for the reset of time in where we have been to where we are going. The light slants differently on the bark of the tree trunk and the changing leaves become translucent and crunchy. And the need to toss on a sweater when the sun sets feels right. All the other seismic shifts happening on the planet and in our country and to our once tiny, intimate, caring community here, in our town, will rotate for a few more days and then — god willing all the cylinders for a fully new year will click into place on this weekend as Yom Kippur begins with solemn reflection and atonement. And we will move together with grace and remembrance and gratitude with work to do — as a New Year begins to begin, at sundown, this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.