Photo/IllutrationFalling in love is the easiest thing in the world. But staying in love, we all know, can be one of the hardest. How do we keep the glow, the sense of unending discovery, alive once we’ve pledged ourselves to familiarity? And how to sustain the sense of anticipation that deliciously quickened the honeymoon? Put differently, how might we be enchanted by discovery’s opposite--routine--and find in constancy a stimulation as rich as novelty provides? The story of every marriage, perhaps, is the story of what happens after the endless summer ends. (Angie Wang/ © 2019 The New York Times)

NARA, Japan--Falling in love is the easiest thing in the world. But staying in love, we all know, can be one of the hardest. How do we keep the glow, the sense of unending discovery, alive once we’ve pledged ourselves to familiarity? And how to sustain the sense of anticipation that deliciously quickened the honeymoon? Put differently, how might we be enchanted by discovery’s opposite--routine--and find in constancy a stimulation as rich as novelty provides? The story of every marriage, perhaps, is the story of what happens after the endless summer ends.

“To learn something new,” the wise explorer John Burroughs noted, “take the path that you took yesterday.” A knowing friend in New York sent me that line when he heard that I’d spent 26 years in the same anonymous suburb in western Japan, most of that time traveling no farther than my size 8 feet can carry me. I’d arrived in Kyoto, from Midtown Manhattan, just out of my 20s and alight with everything this wildly unfathomable place could teach me. I never dreamed that I’d come to find delight in everything that is everyday and seemingly without interest in my faraway neighborhood, nothing special.

Of course this has something to do with the eye of the beholder and the passing years: When we’re young, we want to stand out, to leave our mark on the world, to be exceptional. As the seasons pass, we come to find that it’s everything that’s not extraordinary in us--our ability to tend to a family, to keep ill health at bay, to hit a Ping-Pong ball--and even in the world around us, that may be most memorable.

It’s certainly what is unremarkable in us that allows us to keep going to the office, to find common ground with our neighbors, to have something to write about. Growing up, I thought a writer was obliged to write from strength and show off all the things that he could do with more authority than almost anyone else; as autumn draws on, I begin to think that anyone’s strength is only what unites her or him to everyone else in shared experience, and often vulnerability.

But something other than that took me to Japan. Unlike in Britain and the United States, where I grew up, the citizens of my adopted home are encouraged, even more than elsewhere in Confucian Asia, to be quiet, to remain invisible, to try to look and sound like everyone else. The one thing others don’t much need, they know, is the loud impress of personality. Since I’d been trained to babble, I thought, when choosing to move to Japan, that it might be a good thing to go somewhere where I could learn to listen. Since I’d been encouraged at school to try to be an individual, it didn’t seem a terrible thing to learn to be quite typical. Becoming myself, I realized, might not involve anything more than becoming more like everyone around me.

When I met the woman who would become my wife in a Kyoto temple three weeks after I arrived in 1987, of course it was everything that I assumed to be distinctive, unique, even foreign in her that pulled me, much as she was surely drawn by the foreignness in me. But as we pass into a deeper season in our lives, we come to see that the season’s special lesson is to cherish everything because it cannot last; from Vermont to Beijing, people relish autumn days precisely because they’re reminders of how much we cannot afford to take for granted, and how much there is to celebrate right now, this shining late September afternoon.

I could have learned this anywhere, no doubt, but in Japan the seasons are what my neighbors seem to have where we would have religion. Every time the cherries begin to blossom, people flock into the parks because, in 10 days or so, the frothing pink flowers will be gone; and every time the maple leaves blaze in late November, my Japanese friends and family throng into temple gardens in much the same spirit as people in the West may traditionally gather in cathedrals. To be joined in a congregation; to be reminded of something larger than ourselves, keeping us in place; to catch moments of light in a season of mounting darkness.

I love the sunshine when I visit my mother in Southern California, but I can’t say I love the fact that February and August are growing interchangeable. It’s the end of things, Japan has taught me, that gives them their savor and their beauty. And it’s the fact that my wife--and I--are always changing, even as we’re shedding leaves and hair, that confers an urgency on my feelings toward her. Every year the autumn reminds me that progress doesn’t move in a straight line and that I’m not necessarily wiser than I was last year--or 30 years ago. Every year, autumn sings the same tune, but to a different audience.

My first year in Japan, I wrote a book about my enraptured discovery of a love, a life and a culture that I hoped would be mine forever. My publishers brought out my celebration of springtime romance in autumn. Now, 28 years on, I’m more enamored of the fall, if only because it has spring inside it, and memories, and the acute awareness that almost nothing lasts forever. Every day in autumn--a cyclical sense of things reminds us--brings us a little bit closer to the spring.

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Pico Iyer is the author of more than a dozen books, including “Autumn Light” and, most recently, “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan.”

(Sept. 20, 2019)