Fall colors fulfill


Daniel Kyte-Zable, Staff Columnist

I thought I had done myself in. Three or four hours of homework a night; five hours of sleep on average; extracurriculars, magazines, bands, and an assortment of other commitments presented itself as a chocolate box from hell. Bearing the weight of these things required either 32-hour days or a mental and physical fortitude that I do not possess.

Under these conditions, I could barely hold myself upright, barely keep my knees from scraping the floor. I would sink lower and lower in my attempts to bear this impossible weight, to prevent it from slipping off my aching back and rolling away. This great mass of textbooks, three-ring binders, and the “World Encyclopedia” of pre-calculus notes was simply too heavy.

I was going to explode. It was as simple as that: one day, I was simply going to go, “POP!” and that would be the end of Daniel Kyte-Zable. Pieces of me would fly across the whole Greater Boston area. An eyeball in Newton, a toe in Somerville—maybe they’d even find a finger or two in Martha’s Vineyard. This is no way to live. In fact, living is a misnomer; languishing slowly is more accurate. In such a life, where work becomes our society’s sole function, everything fades to a dull gray. Where work becomes the basic “stuff” of life—the food we gulp down, the air we breathe, the very ground we stand on, even the carbon atoms sustaining our existence—color, light, and vibrancy are exiled.

The world is a windowless, cramped cell, with flickering fluorescent lights and a locked door.

Inside, you become a shell of a person, floating along in a gray, meaningless dream.

It is all too easy to morph into this half-human, slaving away at the commitments loaded upon you. I was this illusory self for the whole of last year: I existed solely to eat, sleep, and write essays. Indeed, I was on the verge of returning to this primitive state just a few weeks ago. But something stopped me.

There is something about autumn leaves. The browns, reds, yellows and oranges. We live in a world that is painted over in fall colors. The red of stop signs, neon lights, the checkered tiles in the commons; the yellow of traffic lights and the school logo and balloons and lemons and corn-on-the-cob.

In nearly all of these occurrences, the colors are unremarkable and mundane.

So why, every year, are we inexplicably drawn to these autumn leaves? We pin our attention to their all-too-familiar shades; sometimes, we even walk out simply to observe them. In a world that shows us constantly how common these colors are, we still find joy when we see them in this context.

This is the fundamental quality of the world. This is the basic “stuff” of life. This indescribable quality unites all palpable, earthly things. It is not solely restricted to autumn leaves; it fills up sunsets and moonlight and the ocean.

It’s in the feeling of sand between your toes, in the taste of your favorite drink, in that warm heaviness you feel after eating just a little too much. It is a quality that everyone feels, a strange pull toward color and light and feeling. The closest word to this experience is beauty, but that isn’t exactly right.

This is the quality that saved me. It is in this quality that real, meaningful life lies—not in endless work or wealth or success—but in the sheer awesomeness of sensation and experience and our miraculous ability to process these feelings.

I am not any less busy these days. But I have come to appreciate everything because I know work is not the end-all be-all of my life. There is a world beyond my bedroom window, filled with light and color and meaning.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from “Call of the Wild.” Honestly, I’ve never read “Call of the Wild,” but in pursuit of seeming wise and worldly, we’ll pretend I didn’t learn this from “James Bond.”

“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”