The vibrant autumn leaves have given way to brown, withering, crackling dry fodder this week, and as I write they are rapidly falling to the earth on this dark and cloudy day. After having enjoyed so many days of sunshine and warmth this year…more than usual…the signs of the coming winter are beginning to settle in.
Today finally brings me a reminder that sunny days don’t last forever. The long days have grown shorter, darker, colder, and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I’ve taken the sun and the warmth for granted, and that this day is a harbinger of things to come.
One day last week my dad stopped by the house just to have a chat with me. It doesn’t happen too often, because he’s a man on the go. But on that day he was a man on an urgent mission and he had to stop and talk to me or it was obvious he might explode from the pressure of getting this message off his chest.
You have to understand something about my dad, first. He’s a man of high emotions and deep thoughts. He feels things very deeply. He gets incredibly excited about the simple things of life, the simple joys of friends and family, the beauty of nature, the opportunity to explore and find treasures. His treasures tend to be things like different kinds of rocks – I might never have noticed how many different kinds of rock, or soils, or sands, or shells, or trees there are were it not for my dad constantly, excitedly – no, exuberantly – pointing these out to me every time I see him. Dad collects these things and then turns them into labeled collections on which he can “test” my siblings and me, and our children, time after time after time. Not only is every outing with Dad a rip-roaring adventure and eye-opening experience, but it is also an education – you learn things you never dreamed you would, or should, or could learn. He’s a teacher at the core, and an artist and an engineer and a spiritual advisor- all wrapped up in one big loving, praying heart. And usually, it makes no sense at all – but all the sense in the world. You learn to just go with it.
So, on that day he stopped by he had something to share, something profound that he needed to share with someone who might “get it”. He believes that I’m a lot like him, and that I “get” these very same things that he does. And, he believes that, whereas he tends to be the “hands and feet” of these adventures, I’m the “words”. He often tasks me with putting down his ideas and thoughts and inventions into words or something that half-way makes sense. And that’s not easy. At all.
On that day his burning desire was to tell me how much he had enjoyed the leaves falling from the trees this fall, and that he believed that he’d been given a special gift from God – to just truly notice them, to SEE them, and to be able to take the time to sit and walk and enjoy them. He noticed every nuance about them, how they cling to the branches until just the right moment when the wind blows through with a great gust, and the branches finally release their treasures, one by one, as they flutter and swirl to the ground. He told me he wanted to share that with me because he believed that I would understand, and he wanted me to SEE it, too, and get out there and experience them NOW, before they are gone, lost to the bleak winter dreariness and decay. He believed that I could somehow put this phenomenon into words, and give it a reason and a purpose, and thus give him a way to capture those feelings that he was feeling and that he so wanted me to feel too.
At the time I remember thinking, “Well, that’s beautiful dad, and I appreciate it, too, and, wow, those leaves are pretty, and I know there must be a story there, but I’m not sure what it is, and I’m really busy right now, but okay, when I can get around to it, I’ll give it some thought and let you know what I come up with. See ya later, Dad.”
And then Dad left, off to his next adventure.
And soon after that, thoughts of leaves and the meaning of nature and life left me, too.
And life went on. Busy. Bustling. Hectic. Flying by.
A few days later James came home to enjoy a rare, peaceful lunch with me. We were sitting, chatting, enjoying the beautiful day and making plans for the days and weeks ahead, when my phone rang. My mother calling…
I won’t go into great detail here, because there are some parts of this story that would make it incredibly insensitive for me to share it all. However, let me say that it was life-jarring.
For a few minutes in time, our family believed, due to an incredible mix-up in circumstances, that my father had collapsed and been taken to the hospital. And because my sister was the first to arrive at the hospital, she was mistakenly told that he had passed away, that they had tried everything, but to no avail.
For twenty minutes, my sister believed our father was dead. And we know now that we can NOT call her first in emergencies of this nature.
Even though we found out the truth of the situation in a matter of minutes, that Dad was very much alive and this was a case of mistaken identity, we were all profoundly shaken up by this event. For several days we have dealt with the repercussions and had to communicate the story over and over to friends and family. Our emotions have ranged from devastation, to uplifting joy, to relief, to rejoicing, and all of those at once. And then it has caused such guilt – survivors’ guilt – because we have profoundly felt the pain and suffering of the family who actually did experience the loss of a loved one during all of this.
And during all of these happenings and emotions, I found myself in a place in which I felt that I could not afford to let feelings and emotions overtake me, because during all of this, I believed I had to take charge. I had to make sure everyone around me was okay, and just simply get things done.
I am such an emotional, “feelings” person by nature. If you can see my face, you know exactly what I’m thinking, unfortunately. I have learned to let emotions out when I need to, otherwise I’ll explode. But, because I’m a natural “organizer/leader”, I’ve also learned to strangle them almost completely, dangerously, when I have to comfort others and take control of situations.
This past week, my emotions took a back seat, and I strangled them completely. I had to be the strength, the communicator, the backbone, the organizer of the family. Emotions? Feelings? Deep thoughts? There’s no time for that. Maybe later…there’s always later, right? I can sort it all out then, all the meaning of these past few days will come together when I have more time to give it…there will be some time later, right?… at some point, some day.
Well, I’m finally having that time today, just a few days later. A Saturday when, after an unseasonably warm and sunny autumn, the sky is suddenly gloomy, the air is nearing a freeze, and the leaves are falling off of the trees because the wind is blowing with a vengeance after being subdued for so long.
Normally I don’t look forward to this time of year I don’t want to think about the dark cold cloudy days ahead. The browns and the grays are not my colors. Winter is my least favorite time of year. I love the snow, but it’s those long stretches of gray and brown that go on and on for months, after the golden glow of autumn has passed, that I dread. Depression often overwhelms me during those months, as I search through the clouds for golden rays of light & signs of spring.
But this morning, the falling, swirling leaves were highly noticeable, and my senses were overwhelmed with the immense weight of what all happened this week. During my prayer and meditation time, I was led to think back to a sermon a past preacher of ours gave which he had entitled “Autumn’s Admonition”. He always felt inclined to deliver this same sermon, year after year at this time. It was a reminder of how short life truly is, and how little time we are actually given to prepare and to complete the work that God has given us to do while we are here on Earth.
These leaves that fall, year after year after year? They are a reminder of this. God sees fit to remind us that time is fleeting. We don’t have forever, He reminds us annually. This year I’m finding more meaning in this than ever. I’m feeling my age. I’m watching my parents age. I’m getting a glimpse into what the future holds. And at times, I admit, it looks very bleak. And I feel such a sense of dread.
But, today I have found myself thinking of what happened last week, and then thinking of all of the beauty that my Dad realized and saw in these falling leaves, the beauty that he so longed to communicate to myself and others. I finally realized this morning that there IS a story to be told in these leaves, my Dad was right, and there was a reason our family had the opportunity to take a rare glimpse into the great sadness that comes with loss and death of a dear loved one.
The story of the falling leaves is that there can be great beauty in a falling leaf – a leaf dying, releasing, swirling in its final flight of glory to the cold ground below.
There is great beauty in realizing that seasons change and time is short and death comes.
There is great beauty in autumn’s warning of the looming, dark winter… the coming death.
There is great beauty in this reminder because it can affect us in a way that causes us to behave differently, to treat others more kindly, to take advantage of every moment we’ve been given, to release and let go of the worries of life and enjoy that glorious swirling flight of freedom that comes in letting go and just loving – loving the journey, the moments, others.
Yes, leaves die, they fall, they wither away…and there is a special kind of sadness and loss and remembrance that comes in that cycle of nature. But, there is also a special beauty in dying, in death, and in the HOPE that this is not the end.
There is an opportunity to be more alive than ever in that moment of dying, or in that moment of getting a glimpse of the thought of death, to be awakened to the gift of awareness and the reminder that life is short, and therefore, the reminder to LIVE it to the fullest, to take advantage of the time and opportunities we’ve been given. To prepare. To take steps toward completing the work that the Lord has given us to do on this Earth. And we can do this now, while we are still alive and clinging to the vine, or we can do this as we are letting go… knowing there is more, something better, new life, to come.
This is Autumn’s Admonition.
“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease.” – Genesis 8:22
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8