Things change quickly

To everything is a season

Posted: October 28, 2017 at 1 a.m.

My neighbor has a stand of maple trees along the front of his yard. Every year about this time, people drive by to take in the brilliant colors. Sometimes they stop to take photos, but mostly they just stop to bask in the red and golden light. We feel blessed to be able to take in the fall colors from our front windows or while sitting in the rockers on our front porch.

I love the changes that happen every fall, when the days are sunny and warm and the nights are crisp and cool. It's time to get the fireplace ready for comfortable nights by the fire. The squirrels are running around gathering and storing food for the winter. Autumn is a time when things change quickly. Every day, the trees and plants and sky look different from the day before. If there are changes I want to make in my life, I believe they are easier to make during this season than at times when everything seems static.

This season is also a reminder of death and dying, as trees and shrubs turn brown and lose their leaves, and the annuals we planted in spring have shriveled away to nothing. In my 70th year on this planet, I also have to wonder if I am in the fall of my life or if winter has already arrived. It feels like fall to me because my life feels colorful and full of interesting changes. But in the past 12 months, seven of my friends and family members have died. Some were my age, some a little older, some younger. All of these deaths were unexpected -- except for my sister's father-in-law who passed away nine days after the 100th birthday party we threw for him. He was ready to go and be with his beloved wife who had crossed over 10 years before.

Carlos Casteneda writes about death as an ally, and I know that's true for me. At each of the funerals I attended this year, there was a joyful celebration of our loved one's life, even as we mourned his passing. There were tears and laughter, and both felt good to be shared in community. And while it was unspoken, I think many of us also were quietly appreciative of our own aliveness. When a friend or family member dies, we are inevitably confronted with our own mortality. Mary Oliver expresses it well in her poem "The Summer Day."

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Jude, a friend of mine, said she thinks about death every day -- not in a morbid way, but as a recognition that this life in physical form is finite. I thought I was the only one, and it really helped me to hear her talk about daily thoughts of death. Recognition of death, seeing death as an ally, allows us to embrace life more fully, to think about what we want to do with our "one wild and precious life."

Two years ago, I was incorrectly toldI had a terminal illness, one that was progressive and irreversible. I wrote about that experience for a column on this page, titled "Illness as a Pilgrimage." A diagnosis like that grabs your attention like a hand around your throat and immediately brings life priorities into clear focus. For me -- and probably for almost everyone -- my family and their well-being during my illness became more central than ever. Nothing else really mattered -- and still doesn't.

As it turns out, I have a chronic and very treatable respiratory disease and feel very full of life. I visualize myself living two or three more decades with this continued sense of health and well-being. I've got friends in their 80s and 90s who are wonderful role models of aging and living all out. I want to be like Maya Porter and Diana Rivers when I grow up. Meanwhile, death is my ally, reminding me I am alive at this moment, never knowing how long that might be.

Pete Seeger and The Byrds popularized this scripture from Ecclesiastes:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep.

In the 1960s, we used to say "the personal is political." I can't help but extrapolate these personal musings into thinking about what's going on in the world today. I was never a very political person until the recent election. Now, I ask myself, with the hate and violence and environmental disasters I see not only in our country, but around the world, do we as a human race have a terminal illness? Or is this a false diagnosis? Is the human race in the autumn of our existence, or perhaps even the winter? Or is this just part of an ongoing cycle of evolution? Is there hope for a collective awakening to our higher nature, for a healing of the hatred and bigotry and for a healing of Mother Earth?

The political has also now become personal. I had a dear friend I avoided because her ugly hatred of liberals on Facebook was painful for me. Several friends have moved out of the country, and now my son in New York is planning to go too because he has given up on this country. If he does make the move, my grandchildren will be even farther away.

It is fall. The leaves are changing. My life is changing. This country is changing. The world is changing. It is up to me to trust and have faith that all of this change is part of the natural cycle of life and death and rebirth. "To everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under heaven." I'm trying, but sometimes I'm really scared.

NAN Religion on 10/28/2017