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10/26/05

A hard letter ("t") for a hard season (autumn)...

This post was prompted by an assignment from the blog of my internet friend and Spiritual brother, Jeremy. The assignment was:

If you're stumped for blogging material, here's an assignment. Choose one letter from the word "autumn" and either explain its function in the word or justify its necessity. Avoid goofy acronymizing. 500 words maximum.

Though I don't know how well I communicated my answer to the assignment, I think you can at least tell what letter I chose.


A hard letter ("t") for a hard season (autumn)

I’m only 27 years old, so I wasn’t around before Adam and Eve chose to be motivated by ambition and pride rather than love. Thus, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without sadness and loss. And, I only know what it’s like to live in a world in which the autumn season reflects a sense of that sadness and loss. I’ll admit that my view of autumn is influenced by my upper-Midwest provenance. I’ve always disliked this season because I’m simply unable to hold an optimistic perspective. I’m not overwhelmed by the beauty of leaves of a hundred colors but by the drudgery of spending four hours on a Saturday raking them from my yard. I’m not relieved by cool weather after the heat of summer but depressed by windy gray days. I don’t enjoy the starlit skies during dinner-time because I’m still annoyed with the early sunsets that blind me while driving home from work. And as the leaves are falling, the birds leaving, and the flowers withering in autumn, I’m reminded that beauty and life and abundance are often fleeting in this world.

I offer these thoughts [grumblings] as preface to my contention for why there is a “t” in the word autumn. I am well aware that words are only arbitrary symbols, which are connected to objects or ideas by cultural agreement. The same season is called otono in Spanish, Herbst in German, and it’s even sometimes called fall in English. Yet, I submit it is remarkably apropos that autumn has a “t” that interrupts its otherwise smooth flow of sound. Consider: the “t” is a hard, jolting sound. In the midst of the easy “au-” voiced from the back of your throat, and the smooth “-umn” made with your mouth peacefully closed, the “t” can only be sounded by touching your tongue to your hard palate and then violently forcing air through to break the connection (phonologists describe the sound as a plosive).

Just as the “t” is jolting in the midst of pronouncing autumn, so the season of autumn is jolting in the midst of the yearly cycle. As I’ve described above, it not only entails real loss—of green, warmth, and daylight—but it also reflects and reminds us of greater losses. Beauty fades. Life and relationships end. Abundance recedes into scarcity. Therefore, the “t” serves as a pointed interruption in the word that is connected with the season that is a pointed interruption in the year. And that season autumn is itself an illustration of the pointed interruption that sadness and loss cause in our experience of this world. While we might wish that the beauty, life, and abundance of spring and summer last forever, autumn’s arrival—along with its jolting middle phoneme—forces us to accept that they will not even make it to the year’s end.

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G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."