I’ve always loved fall. As a child, it started out with pumpkin carvings, Halloween candy, bonfires (well suburban bonfires contained in small firepits) and apple-picking. Then my love for fall reached its adolescence, it moved on to pumpkin spice lattes, mums, ginkgo trees, and mulled cider.
My affinity for fall finally reached maturity when I fell in love with my husband as we picked apples with my family. We said “I love you” first in my parents’ backyard as we huddled around our citified bonfire. We held hands and shivered nervously on the front porch of his old house, and talked late into the autumn evenings.
I have nothing but fond memories of fall.
I still rejoice when the weather turns cooler. I break out my fall shoes and sweaters and scarves. I take pictures of my favorite trees and send them to friends.
You can imagine how I mourned on Facebook a few weeks ago, when I saw that a friend had posted something to the effect that the beginning of the “slow march toward death” had started. Ironically, the thing that I have always appreciated most about fall is the thing that he most hated.
The real reason that I love fall is what the season represents: vibrance and beauty before death.
I love that the trees and plants bloom boldy in their old age with vibrant yellows, reds and oranges. It is not a slow march towards death, but is the best, most beautiful parade before winter comes and rustles the leaves off the trees, leaving them naked again.
It is no wonder that many people fail to think of autumn in this way. In the West, we devote ourselves fully to the spring and summer of our lives. Sex and the City has made 40 the new 20. Men and women alike want to stay forever young, and botox, hair dye, and plastic surgery help them do it.
Not only do we idealize the youth, but we trivialize the old.
I thought about this when I was in an antique store the other day. Old things are “antiques” but are no longer used. We sit them on shelves, pay a lot of money for them and watch them collect dust. (Alice Walker writes a story with a similar theme, called “Everyday Use.” I highly recommend it). Now, let it be known that I love a good junk shop, but I always like to use the things that I buy there, and even though they are old, they still work!
In a similar way, we trivialize not just old things, but elderly people themselves. We expect them to talk about the good ole’ days, fish, go to craft shows, but we don’t expect real wisdom from them. We don’t revere them. We don’t think that they are beautiful. The darker side of this phenomenon is something that Americans do, but don’t talk about. People put their parents and grandparents in nursing homes and never visit them. Since living in Richmond I have encountered many elderly homeless persons that have been turned out into the streets by their families either from neglect or selfishness.
Sometimes people put themselves on the shelves of life so to speak. They simply stop living. They waste away on a diet of romance novels, golf programs, cruises and early bird buffets. I’ve heard these people say, “I’ve earned this, let’s leave it to the younger ones.” This is such a waste of beautiful wisdom and life.
Some of the most beautiful people in life are older people who have lived their whole lives truly loving people, loving life and loving God.
One of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed was an elderly man in a church service. He had his hands raised, a joyous face and was singing boldly. He was not disengaged, but rather fully alive, vibrant, and beautiful in a way that he could not have displayed when he was twenty.
This wasn’t a young heart full of untamed zeal and passion. Instead, his praise had undergone years of trials and testing, and he still was able, with a full heart, calloused hands, silver hair and a warbling voice, to praise the God who made him.
The autumn of our years should and can be the most beautiful of all of them. The trees remind me of this promise, of the secret of a full-life that is well lived. We can be more beautiful, and bloom boldly before death.