The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
Everything is made to perish;
the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so.
No, he thought.
The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place.
What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking? ~Paul Harding from Tinkers
~whether the house stayed dry in a flood
or a forest passed over in a wildfire
or a devastating diagnosis averted
or a bank account contained sufficient funds
or gray hairs remain successfully hidden~
May I not settle for comfort and contentment
but seek to fill
my continual need
with what will not perish,
even as the leaves turn yellow
and the light begins to fade,
and rest assured
as the seasons pass, altering the landscape,
I too must be changed.
This dandelion has long ago surrendered its golden petals, and has reached its crowning stage of dying – the delicate seed-globe must break up now – it gives and gives till it has nothing left.
The hour of this new dying is clearly defined to the dandelion globe: it is marked by detachment. There is no sense of wrenching: it stands ready, holding up its little life, not knowing when or where or how the wind that bloweth where it listeth may carry it away. It holds itself no longer for its own keeping, only as something to be given; a breath does the rest…
~Lillias Trotter from “Parables of the Cross”
Might I ever stand “ready” as a field of dandelions in full-puff, seeds preparing to detach in response to a breeze or a breath?
This readiness feels very much like the peak of labor in childbirth, a moment that feels as if time has stopped – the inevitability that one can never go back to the way things were. This “crowning” of the new life as it emerges means the surrender of the old life and its resultant emptying.
May I turn my head full on to the breeze, giving and giving until I have nothing left.
Only then, only then, is there a moment of detachment that leads me to eternity.
…to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. — Ellen Bass “The Thing Is…” from Mules of Love
It begins again, even though I’m unprepared. No matter which way I turn, autumn’s kaleidoscope displays new patterns, new colors, new empty spaces as I watch the world die into itself once again. Some dying is flashy, brilliant, blazing – a calling out for attention. Then there is the hidden dying that happens without anyone taking notice: just a plain, tired, rusting away letting go.
I will spend the morning adjusting to the change in season by occupying myself with the familiar task of moving manure. Cleaning barn is a comforting chore, allowing me to transform tangible benefit from something objectionable and just plain stinky to the nurturing fertilizer of the future. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something.
As I scoop and push the wheelbarrow, I recall another barn cleaning fifteen years ago, when I was one of three or four friends left cleaning over ninety stalls after a Haflinger horse event that I had organized at our local fairgrounds. Some people had brought their horses from over 1000 miles away to participate for several days. There had been personality clashes and harsh words among some participants along with criticism directed at me as the organizer that I had taken very personally. As I struggled with the umpteenth wheelbarrow load of manure, tears stung my eyes and my heart. I was miserable with regret. After going without sleep and making personal sacrifices over many months planning and preparing for the benefit of our group, my work felt futile and unappreciated.
One friend had stayed behind with her young family to help clean up the large facility and she could see I was struggling to keep my composure. Jenny put herself right in front of my wheelbarrow and looked me in the eye, insisting I stop for a moment and listen:
“You know, none of these troubles and conflicts will amount to a hill of beans years from now. People will remember a fun event in a beautiful part of the country, a wonderful time with their Haflingers, their friends and family, and they’ll be all nostalgic about it, not giving a thought to the infighting or the sour attitudes or who said what to whom. So don’t make this about you and whether you did or didn’t make everyone happy. You loved us all enough to make it possible to meet here and the rest was up to us. So quit being upset about what you can’t change. There’s too much you can still do for us.”
During tough times since (and there have been plenty), Jenny’s advice replays, reminding me to cease seeking appreciation from others or feeling hurt when harsh words come my way. She was right about the balm found in the tincture of time. She was right about giving up the upset in order to die to self and self absorption, and instead to focus outward.
I have remembered.
Jenny herself did not know that day fifteen years ago she would subsequently spend six years dying while still loving her life every day, fighting a relentless cancer that was only slowed in the face of her faith and intense drive to live. She became a rusting leaf gone holy, fading imperceptibly over time, crumbling at the edges until five years ago this past week, she finally had to let go. Her dying did not flash brilliance, nor draw attention at the end. Her intense focus during the years of her illness had always been outward to others, to her family and friends, to the healers she spent so much time with in medical offices, to her firm belief in the plan God had written for her and those who loved her.
So Jenny let go her hold on life here. And we reluctantly let her go. Brilliance cloaks her as her focus is now on things eternal.
You were so right, Jenny. Nothing from fifteen years ago amounts to a hill of beans now. Except the words you spoke to me that day, teaching me to love life even when I have no stomach for it.
And I won’t be upset that I can’t change what is past and the fact that you have left us.
And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,
As still as a brooding dove.
~Percy Bysse Shelley from “The Cloud”
To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: “I am an evening cloud too.” They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me. ~Rainer Maria Rilke from Stories of God
From this hill, we can see for miles. At certain times of morning and evening, it can feel as if we are aloft, closer up to the clouds, seeing the terrain from their vantage point. There are the snow-covered peaks to the east, the craggy Canadian coastal range to the north, the stretch of river valley to the north west, the Salish Sea to the west and the forest to the south.
Surrounding us is the farmland and the good people who feed this community: the expanse of dairy land and its vast pastures, the corn fields, berry rows and potato mounds, acres of orchard espaliers and local farm-to-market and CSA growers.
The ever-moving, ever-changing immensity of the clouds covers us all. As those clouds touch, embrace, release, mold and transform, they show us how connection with others is done. As we county folk pass on the roads during an evening walk, as we are running late to town jobs, as we meet in the store or at church or community events, we too should touch and greet one another, nod and encourage, acknowledge the shared light that comes from beyond us that restores and transforms us.
Most of all, like the clouds, we are too often full to brimming, a shedding of shared tears at how easily this land can be taken away — whether remembering the sad history of people group domination and removal from their ancestral homes, or the ravages of flood or volcanoes, the effects of drought and wildfire, of blight or sickness, or the currentover-regulation of government ensuring no farmer can afford to continue to do what they know best to preserve the land, the habitat and their crops.
We weep in recognition, like these clouds, to make ourselves understood and to diminish the distance between us.
A stone’s throw from an abandoned homestead foundation leans
an ancient cherry tree, bent by countless storms,
its northern half bare,
from the southern half
dangles clusters of sweet century old promises.
Once orchard lifeblood of this farm,
its fruit picked for farmers’ market
an early dawn hour’s wagon ride to town;
now broken down, forgotten
until this week of fruitful surrender.
Already, but not yet finished,
roots still reaching deep for one more season;
a faithful cycle blooming forth
with budding life from gnarled knots
to yield glorious from weary dying branches.
Hundreds of glistening amber globes of rosy sheen
cling clustered on crooked lichened limbs,
to be gathered up heaping into bowls of gold,
awaiting ecstatic burst of savored perfection,
fulfilling an old promise of sweet abandon.
We want to reach the kingdom of God,
but we don’t want to travel by way of death.
And yet there stands Necessity saying:
‘This way, please.’
Do not hesitate to go this way,
when this is the way that God came to you.
We too easily forget;
we are not asked to bear more
than God endured for us,
always pointed to the well-worn path
bearing the footprints
coming to lead us home.