I love the golden hue of October light, the patina of an aging year. The glow seems heavy as though the late morning sunlight is swimming against the tide of time. I understand. My life force feels the same resistance in my aging bones. Still, many say that fall is their favorite time of year. And many young ones say they can’t wait to be retirement age. I wonder if they recognize that autumn’s allure eminnates in part from our awareness of its inevitable fading from glory. Its brevity underscores its value. We know it can not linger long, for it isn’t the last season of the year – it’s the penultimate one. The same can be said of our retirement years.
I’ve never before comprehended the need for the word penultimate. Why would the next-to-last be something to identify with such specificity? Shouldn’t the ultimate of anything dwarf what comes just before?
Perhaps nature gives us a hint as to the necessity for the word by sending us October light. Maybe you think it’s your imagination that the light seems golden, almost liquid in its hazy hovering, especially early on an autumn morning. However, what you observe is real. Earth has begun tilting away from the sun; now the rays of light we receive are longer, slanted beams that gleam and cast long shadows. We recognize that – while warmth is not quite over – the days of baking our bones in sunshine are done. We wax nostalgic, looking back at summer and anticipating the long, dark, ultimately cold days of winter. We savor the penultimate nature of autumn light.
In the Hindu religion, this is the season for Diwali – the festival of lights, a celebration that spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. My understanding is that the festival lasts 4-5 days over the new moon of autumn, during the penultimate darkness before the “longest night of the year” in December. The traditions of shopping and feasting, of gifts and lights seem not unlike the Christian celebrations attending the birth of Christ, the ultimate Light of the World. If we could learn to value the traditions of other religions, perhaps Christians could recognize that the Universe is always teaching the same lesson to slow-learning humans – light eliminates darkness, life triumphs over death, and ultimately, understanding illumines oblivion. We know the light will return with vivid spring strength. Like a crayon-resist painting, darkness will be scratched away, and the light will be revealed once again. If we let them, the seasons teach us to hold on to hope. The Hindus use the “Festival of Lights” as a reminder before darkness descends of the power of light. It’s like cramming right before the test.
I would argue that in this penultimate season, humans get a needed chance to value the changing nature of light and the changing nature of life. We slow down. We savor the harvest. Our memories glow with the same golden hue of the grain we store. The mellow shades of autumn remind us of the challenges on their way, but soften the dread. Given this time of preparation, we can be ready for the ultimate season – winter, or metaphorically, death. We have the penultimate season as a reminder to get ready.
Ever since Ron’s stroke, I’ve been more aware of the ultimate season life brings to us all. More specifically, I have thought about the reality that my life, too, must end. Theoretically, we know the shadows deepen as autumn approaches (“those golden years”); but if we are honest, until we really experience the chill in our bones, the physical shift from growth to wither, we don’t really believe death will happen to us or to those we love. How important, then, that autumn brings us the chill reminder of changing realities.
Now, this could seem a morbid truth, and autumn could be a hated season. But usually it is not. Why? Because we celebrate the harvest. We hold parties, we dress up, we ring door bells and play pranks. We layer clothing and discover there is no bad weather, only poor planning. We rake leaves and jump in them. We mull cider and roast marshmallows. Life is good. And if we are smart, we approach our latter days with the same abandon. I want to be smart. I want to make the most of this penultimate time we are privileged to enjoy.
And so I announce my choice to risk loving again. I am selling my home, downsizing my closets and shelves, and taking a leap of faith that – like Job – my latter days can be better even than my beginning ones. I am pledging my heart to the Rev. Dr. Page Foster of Melbourne, Florida, who also lost the love of his life – four years ago tomorrow. We plan – like the Hindus – to make this penultimate season a “Festival of Light.” How sweet to have a chance to share the harvest years of life together. So how fitting that I will say “goodbye” to family and friends here at Thanksgiving.
When I was in the middle of Ron’s winter season, I entitled this blog “In It for the Long Run.” Of course, at the time, I was thinking of Ron’s admonition to me as a young mother to be patient with the raising of children – to take the long view. They would not always be children. Once my babes were adults themselves and successfully pursuing lives of their own, I saw the wisdom of his advice. In the midst of our struggle, I discovered how taking the same long view applied to the marathon journey of stroke recovery. Then after Ron made his ultimate crossing from this life to the next, I recognized the new “long view” applied to picking up the course of life again and finishing my own race.
This blog began as a place to explore the lessons of caregiving in the face of difficulty and struggle. Then there were forays into the furnace of grief and loss. I wish now that I had been more faithful to record the explorations of how I was rebuilding my life, once I determined to do so, but instead much of the searching for direction in last twenty months has been a time for silent meditation – like when it’s summer and it’s just too hot to cook. But thanks be to God, I have emerged from that season and am enjoying October light. This long run I’m on is taking me to new places and new scenery, and that’s okay. Maybe it’s time for a new title – “Second Wind.” Regardless, I am still underway, and I don’t intend to quit. Just letting you know.
The hope is life’s transience will produce such luminance in us
If we tilt toward the Source,
Avoid storms and linger in the calm,
Let the chill of change produce its magic,
And just BE.