Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then the shadow sweeps it away. You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
After years of rarely paying attention, too busy with whatever household or clinic or barnyard task needed doing, I realized there are only a finite number of sunrises and sunsets left to me and I don’t want to miss them, so now I stop, take a deep breath and feel lucky to be alive, a witness to that moment.
Sometimes they are plain and gray just as I am, but there are days that are lit from above and beneath with a fire that ignites across the sky. I too am engulfed for a moment or two, until sun or shadow sweeps me away, transfixed and transformed, forever grateful for the light.
… having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:12
The night sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
The star represented a hope too long elusive; so weary and with so much need they headed out for unknown lands to follow a light seemingly beyond their reach.
When they found its source they could touch His earthliness. No shadow cast of darkness, and no iron nails could quell the beauty of its brilliance.
Having been so illumined they could only return home another way~ No longer could they be who they had been.
The passing of the summer fills again my heart with strange sweet sorrow, and I find the very moments precious in my palm. Each dawn I did not see, each night the stars in spangled pattern shone, unknown to me, are counted out against me by my God, who charges me to see all lovely things… ~Jane Tyson Clement from “Autumn”
We’re already a month into autumn and I’ve had a hard time letting go of summer.
The earth also is struggling with the inevitable transition as the last few weeks have been filled with blue skies, warm days and no killing frosts.
In short, it seemed perfection: sweater weather filled with vibrant leaf color, clear moonlit nights and outstanding sunrises.
I feel I must see it all, to witness and record and savor it. God convicted us to see, listen, taste and believe.
Can we ever hope for a more merciful sentence given the trouble we’ve been to Him? He loves us still.
Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season Changes its tense in the long-haired maples That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition With the final remaining cardinals) and then Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground. At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees In a season of odd, dusky congruences—
Everything Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment Pulling out of the station according to schedule, Another moment arriving on the next platform. It Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away From their branches and gather slowly at our feet, Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving Around us even as its colorful weather moves us, Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air: It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies; It is the changing light of fall falling on us. ~Edward Hirsch, from “Fall” from The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2010.
This past week has been an immersion in crimson — ankle-deep and retina-full. There are falls and there are falls, but this transition has seen a transformation richer than most.
It reminds me of the autumn when I fell in love thirty-nine years ago, never to be the same me again. And the fall thirty three years ago when finally pregnant with our first child, we moved from city chaos to rural farm life, never to look back.
I’m reminded of thirty autumns of beginning academic years in my work place, new starts and new fresh faces and all their worries and concerns.
Fall changes us like the light of fall changes everything it touches. I may not be a rich crimson like the leaves around me, nevertheless I am thoroughly changed.
O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all. The crows above the forest call; Tomorrow they may form and go. O hushed October morning mild, Begin the hours of this day slow. Make the day seem to us less brief. Hearts not averse to being beguiled, Beguile us in the way you know. Release one leaf at break of day; At noon release another leaf; One from our trees, one far away. Retard the sun with gentle mist; Enchant the land with amethyst. ~Robert Frost, from “October” in A Boy’s Will
These mornings I wander stunned by light and mist
to see trees tremble inside their loosening cloaks,
a pulsing palette of color ready to detach,
revealing mere bones and branches.
I want to slow it down,
leave the leaves attached like a fitted mosaic
rather than randomly falling away.
Their release is not their choosing:
the trees know it is time for slowly letting go~
readying for sleep, for sprouts and buds, for fresh tapestry to be woven
from October’s leaves lying about their feet.
That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing… Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
~Wallace Stegner from Angle of Repose
Sixteen thousand students have appeared magically overnight on the campus where I’ve worked for three decades. Unfortunately a record was set for the number who ended up in the emergency room last night due to their celebrating the start of the school year a bit too aggressively.
How is it the start of a new school year can be wistful, jubilant and potentially hazardous all at the same time? There are always plenty of mistakes to be made and plenty to learn from, though sometimes at tremendous cost. This is a risky way to start an education.
More than New Year’s Day, the beginning of autumn represents so many turned-over new “leafs”. We are reminded of this whenever we look at the trees all over our beautiful campus and how their leaves are turning and letting go, seemingly joyful as they make way for the next stage of growth, the slate wiped clean and ready to be scribbled on once again.
Every autumn each emerging adult comes to the university with a similar clean slate, hoping to start fresh, leaving behind what has not worked well for them in the past. These are our future patients who we hope are open to change because they are dedicating themselves to self-transformation through knowledge and discipline.
It is a true privilege, as a college health doc, to participate in our students’ transition to become autonomous critical thinkers striving to better the world as compassionate global citizens. Their rich colors deepen when they let go to fly wherever the wind may next take them.
We who remain rooted in place celebrate each new beginning, knowing we nurture the hoped-for transformation…
…as long as we can keep them out of the emergency room.
A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing,
a winnowing flail,
the dust in the barn door;
– -and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect;
but it leaves a relish behind it,
a longing that the accident may happen again. ~Walter Pater from “The Renaissance”
The accident of light does happen, again and again, but when I least expect it. If I’m not ready for it, in a blink, it can be gone.
Yet in that moment, everything is changed and transformed forever. The thing itself, trivial and transient becomes something other, merely because of how it is illuminated.
So am I, trivial and transient, lit from outside myself with a light that ignites within. I’m transfigured by a love and sacrifice unexpected and undeserved.