AUTUMNAL PREPARATION

The park is quiet again now that the children are back in school. This morning when I stop by there are only a few joggers and dog walkers on the path. The squirrels are once again dancing along the limbs and swinging in the branches. A plump pigeon with seashell-like markings of brown and white bobbles through the grass, pecking here and there. The little creek is full and running smoothly through the tall-standing, brown and brittle reeds; along the curve of the walk the lawn sprinklers spray long fountains of water in high wide arcs.

In less than a week, the autumn equinox will arrive and the balance of dark and light will lean into the shadows. Mornings will come later and require sweaters and hot cups of tea. The grass will be covered in dew and the sky reflect a Madonna blue edged by high white clouds. The nights will be sharper and darker, shards of stars will shatter across the sky. Blankets will move from the bottom of the bed to nestle within sheets and comforters. Closets will be explored, clothing tried on and heavy shoes brought out.

Behind the face of Autumn always lies the hint of tears for endings are reflected in its eyes. Roses gather up their skirts and explode in one last burst of color and scent; chrysanthemums of rust, orange, red and yellow shake their bushy heads in defiance; trees withdraw life from leaves and begin their journey inward towards sleep. Spring and summer are packed away with a sigh in cardboard boxes, vacation photos are downloaded and forgotten.

I smell the air and remember an Autumn day when I am sixteen. It is after school and I am picking flowers from the beds alongside the house. My arms are full as I carry this colorful bounty to the back porch where vases wait. The smell of burning leaves is in the air, sharp and acrid; smoke from the fire is traveling southward with the geese. The blue sky outlines the church across the street which shimmers in golden light only seen in autumn. I feel life moving within me and although I do not realize it at the time, these few moments in the afternoon will ever be etched in my memory.

How often is it that we realize we are alive? How often do we feel the transcendent blessing inhabit our hearts? Day after day, the years slip by unnoticed, filled with the commonplace, with the expected and routine, until we see nothing but what we have seen before. We look back and wonder where the years have gone; how did the children grow up so quickly; were we not looking as the seasons came and went? Where are our parents and family and friends? When did our youth depart and when was it replaced by age?

Rocks, trees, water, birds, grass, ants – all that live treasure life and fight to keep it. It is we, the thinkers, who have lost touch with our inheritance, have traded stewardship for despotism and so abdicated our capacity for joy. Life is precious and rare and painful in its awe-full beauty yet we squander it in our innocence and ignorance.

How many moments of clarity do we hold in our hearts? What golden moments have we strung on the rosary of our lives and when we tell our beads are we filled with gratitude for them?  From the formless to form we have come, and back to the formless we shall return. What have we learned from our sojourn here?

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