I grew up in Houston, Texas. The closest I came to an autumn experience was raking the brown, fallen leaves in my grandmother’s Memphis backyard every Thanksgiving. How I loved those leaf piles! Jumping in them with my cousins was fun unlike any we had at home. I never considered what those leaves might have looked like before they fell or even why they were on the ground in the first place.
In fact, the first time I witnessed the spectacle of fall was when we moved to Connecticut. Moving in eighth grade was pretty much all teenage angst and dismay, but I remember the beauty of the trees that autumn like it was yesterday. I could hardly even sulk as I stood on the bus stop because I was so distracted by the colors – red, gold, and every possible shade of orange.
It’s been a lifetime since foliage stopped me in my proverbial tracks like that. Then my “tracks” were my pain and suffering from being removed from the only home and friends I’d ever had to start over in a mysterious land of turtlenecks and itchy wool sweaters. Today, on the last day of a long weekend at our family house in New Hampshire, these “tracks” feel more like a vague ache of missing daily life with my grown kids.
Memories can ache a little
I have been struggling with this quiet sadness for a while now. It’s not constant. It’s not even sorrow as much as nostalgia. It pops up at surprising times – while walking into town, or sitting in the pew at church, or driving past mothers and children on bus stops, or sitting down to dinner at the far end of the table with just my husband.
However, being here, just the two of us, with the somewhat stunning flexibility to go out for long, lazy drives through some of the most beautiful foliage I have (truly) ever seen brought on a flood of sweet memories. Crowded, exhausted days up here at the lake surrounded by my three kiddos, their four cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Boat rides, hikes, Jurassic Park on repeat, putt-putt golf, constant head-counting to make sure I hadn’t lost anyone.
Good days – old and new
How on earth, I keep thinking, is it possible that those times – which seemed endless (my lord there is so much truth in the expression “the days are long, and the years are short”) – end? How is it possible that my life is long enough to contain so many sets of “the good old days?”
From childhood afternoons in Tennessee leaf piles with my cousins, to days piled into boats, backseats, and sofas with my own children and their cousins, my life is filled with countless good old days. And, if this weekend is any measure, will continue to be filled with countless good new days as well.
I think I am learning that the ache of sweet memories coexists peacefully with the joys of life right now. And isn’t that what fall has to teach us if we stop (in our proverbial tracks) to pay attention? The bright reds, oranges, and golds would not be possible if the glorious green of summer didn’t pass away. The stunning foliage is an ending – albeit a spectacular one – with the power to distract us from the fact that we’re saying goodbye to something wonderful.
Like the leaves on the trees, we would be wise to hold each of life’s stages lightly. Even the sweetest times will draw to an end. We are invited to gratefully let go of what was in order to step forward into the riches of what is next. This is not easy. There is an element of trust involved. Like a tree’s mysterious willingness to surrender the leaves that keep it alive, we must acquiesce to the fact that life has plans for us that we could never dream of.
Life continually reinvents itself
We must have faith in life’s ability to continually reinvent itself; to keep creating moments and stages that we will want to last forever. We have to trust that each ending – even or especially the big ones that sneak up on us when we’re busy living – is leading to something new and beautiful that we absolutely do not want to miss out on.
I am grateful that the part of me that aches a little for “the good old days” allowed the trees this autumn to stop me in my tracks. I am grateful to see the parallels between this time of loving twenty-somethings and witnessing the brilliant colors of fall.
I see that the joy of watching them grow into the men and women they are becoming can distract me a little from my own becoming. Like a tree in the autumn, it is my time (again) to lovingly and bravely let go of what was in order to step freely and courageously into the wonderful seasons to come.
Contemplative practices like yoga, meditation, or spiritual direction allow us to see beyond a “quiet” feeling like the ache of nostalgia to discover the love and hope deep within.