This fall has been exceptionally warm. While the small talk along the lines of “this weather can stay for as long as it likes” is nothing less than intellectually devastating, the feeling of delay is hard to deny when it’s 17 degrees in November. The warmth reminds me that, very soon, a puddle courtesy of global warming may replace us, but it also reminds me of that feeling one gets during the last days of summer, just before fall starts to sink in.
One of my favourite feelings is the gentle chill you get during the summer nights as you creep closer to September. You may have been dressed for the afternoon, but you’ve stayed out all day and now you’re just slightly underdressed. The nostalgic effect is in full swing if you’re on a bike: a mode of transportation equally childish and adult.
Those end-of-summer nights are completely defined by the fact that they won’t last much longer—soon the sweaters and jackets will come out in preparation for fall. This feeling of impending finitude at the hands of pleasurable delay is pretty much the most resonant feeling of my university career: being able to choose to be childish while gently being reminded that you won’t be able to keep it up for much longer.
September can feel like a magical month of limbo, especially if we’re to take the songs of Earth, Wind & Fire or Frank Sinatra as truth (and why wouldn’t you? Have you ever listened to “Boogie Wonderland”?). Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” aligns the month with “golden dreams” and “shiny days” of the past. Sinatra’s “September of My Years,” aside from being a pretty cheesy song, has some emotional sway to it as he sings about happily nearing old age: “I find that I’m smiling gently as I near September, the warm September of my years.” Both EWF and Sinatra celebrate the warm memories associated with September, but they also acknowledge the passing of time and the feeling of something special having passed.
There’s a complicated joy and loss attached to September that makes it such an interesting month of both promise and finitude. Here with some resignation, I’m compelled to acknowledge the relevance of Green Day and how Billie Joe Armstrong was onto something when he sang “Wake me up when September ends.” The month is rife with feelings of beginnings and endings, and it is overwhelming to the point where hibernation seems like a pretty good solution.
I wouldn’t acknowledge the mood of September if my life as a university student wasn’t tied to that familiar “back to” feeling that comes with the end of the summer. For some, September is the time when you go back to school only a few months after having gone back home. September is a time of new housing and movement, of painful tuition payments and rent deposits. It’s a time of the promise of the new school year, and the loss of hard-earned summer job money.
I remember one summer in my early teens spent climbing jungle gyms after dark with my friends, singing (for some reason or another) Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The song was hilarious to us, and we cracked up over and over again as we crooned in pseudo-macho tones, our eyes closed and heads thrown back: “And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon. When you comin’ home? Son, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then…”
Sentimental father-son songs still have a special place in my heart and, strangely enough, my social life. Years after those jungle gym nights, songs like Neil Young’s “My Boy” make my friends and I giggle with its heavy-handed message of time passing too quickly, and yet something has changed: joking about artists like Jim Croce or Cat Stevens has become a tricky game of emotional chicken. It’s easy for me to dramatically pull a fist to my chest while whispering lines from “Father and Son,” but after a while the humorous façade fades. I slide from the ironic to the sincere and I take Cat Stevens to heart.
I recognize the risk of confessing to these pressures and possibilities of “going back”—is this a rare feeling reserved for the most pessimistic of millennials? Perhaps, perhaps not. There’s plenty of evidence in the discourse of universities to suggest students are slower to move on from this period of safety. University as a place to come of age is a narrative that captures the experience of many students. In 2013, Forbes reported that only 49% of university students graduate in the projected four-year time, suggesting that either students don’t finish at all or they feel unprepared to leave after four years. Additionally, the fifth-year allure is a strong one (albeit widely inaccessible), and many students treat graduate studies as a way to postpone reality for just a little while longer.
To be a university student means that, in so many ways, you have the choice to go back to the way things were, and at the same time you just get there. You can choose to round up your friends for a birthday dinner at East Side Mario’s (although I might not recommend it), but you will surely stand out from the ten-year-old’s birthday party across the room. You can take the advice of so many wise columnists and consider moving back in with family, but that is not a viable option for everyone. Furthermore, choosing to go back to school for extra studies often comes with anxieties and apprehensions. We live in a sort of metaphorical exodus from our slightly younger selves, dislocated from comfort while we revolve hesitantly around the future.
We want to go back to where things were okay. We have grown used to certain ways of going about our days, and we have grown used to having certain people in our lives. While there’s a certain comfort in the way things used to be, that magical time where things were perfect didn’t necessarily exist at all. The only difference between driving a borrowed car to your best friend’s house at the age of 23 and doing the same at 16 is the sense of nostalgia that you impose. As our good friend Cat might say, “It’s not time to make a change, just relax, take it easy…”
Sometimes winter barrels down autumn and forces us to bundle up early, and other times we get extra sun and the feeling of a summer delayed. It’s up to you, though, if you want to put on your jacket and sweat through the day. For now at least, it won’t do you any harm to take off your jacket and indulge in the sun.