Fall in Minnesota is here, the fluttering leaves, the range of colors, the striking light, the preparation for what we know is coming. In the garden, we gather produce and watch tomatoes work to ripen before the first frost. Today we come up to the equinox, the brief time of equal light and dark. Being outside, there’s so much to witness. And this fall, watching it all is heightened for me.
Last May at our niece’s graduation party at our house, twin grandsons wanted to hit a pingpong ball with a cardboard tube. It was difficult, but they caught on and began smacking the ball around. Soon it turned into a baseball game with my daughter Sophia pitching. My sister Mary asked me to switch with her at third base. Shortly afterward, a ball blasted off the tube and hit me directly in the right eye. I closed my eye and bent over and thought “this is bad.” When I opened it, I couldn’t see anything out of it. My sister Catherine took one look and said, “Your eye is full of blood.”
Mary drove me to the hospital and on the way I thought about our mom warning us about losing an eye. It can happen so quickly. That’s what an accident is. Now here I was, unable to see out of my right eye. My sister tried to reassure me, but my mind raced with possibilities: loss of vision, a glass eye, a black patch.
At the emergency room, I was classified Code Red and rushed in. The doctor on call told me not to eat or drink anything as I might need surgery. But when the ophthalmologist examined me, he said I’d suffered a corneal abrasion and hyphema, blood in the eye, but I didn’t need surgery. He ordered three days of bed rest and said I would be OK. But during the next five days, the pressure in the eye increased. Another doctor determined I needed surgery and inserted a tube to drain the blood, something that is now part of me.
After a few weeks and hundreds of eye drops, most administered by my wife, Fiona, I was OK. My right pupil was larger than the left one and I needed to start wearing glasses. I’d had an accident, surgery, and time for recuperation. Many people go through much worse every single minute. But I could not stop looking at people’s eyes, the beauty of the blues, greens and browns and the way they pulled me deeper in. I noticed how little kids came close to look directly into my eyes and did not worry about staring. As adults, though, we learn to look away and avert our gaze. Eyes are so incredible. How come we don’t talk about them incessantly?
So, this fall, if you’re able to see the colors, celebrate.
If you’re able to hear the sounds as you walk through leaves, celebrate.
If you’re able to wander around outside soaking it in, celebrate.
One day, we know it won’t be so.
Fall in Minnesota reminds us that winter is coming and helps us focus on getting ready. It also provides an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the beauty that’s in front of us, even when so many things in the world are dire and distressing.
We don’t know how many falls we have left. But at this time of decreasing light, we can pay attention and celebrate being here. Our extraordinary eyes allow us to be pulled in deeper, to notice individual details, and to connect with what is alive.
John Coy is the author of numerous picture books and novels. His two new titles this fall are “On Your Way,” illustrated by Talitha Shipman and “My Mighty Journey: A Waterfall’s Story,” with art by Gaylord Schanilec. He lives by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and visits schools around the world.