I’ve been known to say that September is my favourite month. There’s still a bit of summer left, but also some autumn. Sometimes in September the light has a particularly kind of intensity that’s unique to this time of year.
So I love September, but I also hate it. I associate it with coming back from a holiday, when the grass is overgrown and strewn with dead leaves and rotting apples, and I know that I’m going to have to go back to school very soon, or back to work at a job that worries me sick – and when I know that next it will be October, and then November and winter.
My feelings about months and seasons are different now from how they were when I was young, because time flows much more quickly – months come and go, seasons whirl round, I never have the feeling that I once did of summer stretching ahead almost forever, or of winter doing so either – but I still have the same ambivalence about this time of year.
Assuming I live until my mid-eighties, as my parents did, I’m in the mid-September of my life, which is to say, a little over three quarters of the way through. At the end of this year I will start receiving my state pension. It will be nice to have of course, but at the same time it is a message from the state: ‘nothing is expected of you any more.’ The fact that nothing is expected doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to give, of course – I think I have a couple more books in me, I still have things to give as a father and a grandfather… – but still, the message is a reminder that I’m entering the final part of my life.
I’m not like Frank Sinatra. I do have regrets. I’ve done many shitty things. But I think what I regret most of all is my own timidity, which I think lies at the core of most of those shitty things anyway. Timidity, I’m calling it, though I could call it cowardice: the thing that stopped me from grasping nettles, the thing that stopped me properly confronting things that needed to be confronted. At the root of timidity, or so it seems to me, is a lack of trust in one’s own self: ‘I do not trust myself to be able to deal with this situation,’ the timid person says, ‘and so I’m going to avoid it altogether, and maybe even pretend to myself that I haven’t even noticed it.’
But of course one shouldn’t spend September thinking about all the things you should have done in April or May or June. The winter is coming. No sense in wasting this time too.
(Postscript: on reflection, it isn’t particularly original to say that a lack of trust in one’s self causes timidity! After all, ‘trust’ is a synonym of ‘confidence’, and so all I am really talking about is a lack of self-confidence. But interestingly using the word ‘trust’ made the idea seem fresh to me, so that it had the force of a sudden flash of insight! I suppose this is simply because ‘self-confidence’ has become such a widely used term that its meaning has become blunted. When I was a child, teachers also talked a lot about ‘self-respect’, which is a different idea and an important one: more of an ethical principle, a duty towards oneself which is akin to the duty one had towards others.)