Autumn is such a paradoxical season in comparison to the rest of the year.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s my favorite. October holds the key to my heart, and I could pretty must camp out on my front porch and just listen all day to the sound of the wind chasing dried leaves across the sidewalks. When we were dating, I taught Eric to notice the scent fall carries with it. Not the pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon candle scents we all have filling our homes; it’s more akin to the married smell of dirt and sun-dried leaves.
But there is a marked difference between fall and the other three seasons of the year. Spring and summer are all about growth – what’s in bloom, what to plant, what new projects to start. We enjoy the vitality of the world around us during these months, everything seeming to be bolder and brighter and alive. And winter holds herself with a silence eagerly anticipating the coming spring and summer, holding faith that the world will be green once again. Chosen plants for the holidays are evergreens and poinsettias, things that live through harsh temperatures or lower amounts of sunlight.
But in autumn, we celebrate death.
We earnestly desire for the trees to slowly lose life in their branches, the leaves changing hues in response to the dying in their veins. Foliage fades from green to yellow to brown as we excitedly watch from our windows or on morning walks. What is this inconsistency in perspective at this time of year?
There’s something about how these trees die — they die well. They die in the best way possible, waving their multicolored branches in the afternoon sun as if showing off one to another who can die most vibrantly. They die slowly, evidenced by the maples in front of my house whose lower branches hold bright spring green leaves while the upper branches hold crimson and cherry tinted ones.
Ultimately, we can take joy in these deaths because we know their death is not the end. As the leaves let go of their branches and float to dirt, we can savor the blissful crunching under our feet knowing that there will be new ones in their place next spring. This death makes way for new life, so we are able to enjoy this season. We don’t dread what spring will be like without these leaves. And maybe this is the secret to dying well – to hold the perspective that something new awaits, that the story is not over.
While I eagerly await October each year, I admit I am less excited about the experience of death in my own life. As I think about death – to self, to desires, to plans, to expectations – I am not sure that I can say I typically go out with the same fanfare fall does. I cling to those leaves, my dreams, dreading the changing colors and, worse, the loss altogether. Autumn is all about the process, and we find beauty in her process, but so often when it comes to our own lives we want to rush the process and be at the end result.
As I look at the trees, which yield to the course of nature God has established, I wonder of my own life –
Can I die well?
Let go of what I hold as “mine”
Watch it change colors, then wither
(There’s beauty in that process)
Then let it go altogether
to drift freely down
And I, to contentedly stand bare
Anticipating another to take its place in time
A new leaf
Green and whole and bearing fruit
I think we dread death in our lives because we focus on the present crisis instead of the present beauty, and with that we forget the coming spring. We doubt the goodness of God in our losses and our disappointments, fearing if we let go of this we will be stripped forever. We forget that He promises to make all things new, to work out all for good, to fulfill the plans He has for us. And we don’t realize the beauty He creates as we surrender to Him and walk through the process of dying.
This fall, as I bask in the glorious weather and the grandeur of the world around me, I want to be drawn to the heart of God and reminded of His good in my own deaths, in the things I am slowly letting go of so that I may hold more of what He has for me. The story is not over, and new fruit will be produced in time. But for now, I want to enjoy the present beauty He brings even in walking through my own autumns.