Autumn has different meanings for different people. Farmers know it is the time for harvesting crops, the fruit of their labors. For some of us Halloween, Octoberfest, and Thanksgiving might come to mind. Those who love sports, naturally and eagerly, look forward in anticipation of Homecoming and football. Children see it as the time for going back to school or having fun playing in the fallen leaves. And for those who notice the first telltale chill in the air, autumn is a portent of the inevitable onslaught of forbidding dark and cold wintery days. Nature itself belies this last view, however. Instead, she proudly and profusely displays brilliant colors—golds, ambers, reds—to let us know that gloomy bleakness does not have the last word. Still, there is a certain seriousness about autumn, for it reminds us of the impermanence of things. Things pass away. In this season the trees shed their leaves and leave them stark and bare to take on a somberness of their own. At the same time, even as we see the fallen leaves on the ground looking dark and ominous, we are suddenly surprised one day to see a blazing orange color peeking through them, shining out of the darkness. Again, we see the promise that brighter and better things are to come, for the leaves, following their usual cycle, eventually become mulch from which new life comes forth. This pattern found in nature finds similarities in our own lives and, as we begin to age, we are made to become more acutely aware of these similarities. The lush, green richness of our younger days gives way to disappointments and sadness as we experience losses along the way. A dear friend or relative dies or a project or assignment we have been working on with great satisfaction for years has been denied or rejected without explanation. Perhaps someone we trusted to be of impeccable integrity proves to be otherwise. The darkness of these losses takes its toll, and we, like the leaves, must necessarily let go of some of our precious beliefs and dreams that have been digging deep roots in our psyches over the years. However, these passings or diminishments do not tell the whole story either. They simply do not have the last word. As our options in life become fewer and fewer, they become more precious. One day another kind of blazing orange might enter the picture. We get a telephone call from a childhood friend or we find a treasured object we thought we had lost forever. Maybe someone surprises us with an invitation to go on a cruise to New Zealand or a trip to Switzerland. These surprises, whether subtle or bold, are “God’s serendipities.” All of the dark moments of disappointment, misunderstanding and other sufferings become mulch. Then, somehow, they begin to intertwine with our lighter and more colorful moments and the resulting shades and hues add depth and beauty to our lives. Unlike the vigorous but more superficial joys of our youth, we find that, in the autumn of our lives, our hearts have expanded and we experience great gratitude for what is and for all that has gone before. We have become warmly and pleasantly seasoned. Truly, we elders have lived a colorful life!
—Sister Mary E. Penrose
|Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.