“The human soul is slow to discover the real excellence of things given to us by a bountiful Creator, and not until the shadows of death begin to gather around the object that we love, do we see its worth and beauty. Autumn is the dim shadow that clusters around the sweet, precious things that God has created in the realm of nature. While it robs them of life, it tears away the veil and reveals the golden gem of beauty and sweetness. Beauty lurks in all the dim old aisles of nature, and we discover it at last.”
I’ve looked at autumn differently since last year, although it has never been my favorite season. As beautiful as fall foliage appears against a cloudless blue sky on a balmy “Indian summer” day, autumn heralds the coming winter. In my part of the country, the colors of autumn give way to several months of grays and browns. The sky will be gray, clouds will be a steel-gray, the ground will be gray-brown and, worst of all for me, the leafless trees will be a naked gray-brown. Something inside of me also feels gray-brown until leaf buds again appear and their spring green colors contrast, and eventually cover, most of the gray-brown tree branches.
The green 2012 spring that ended with Brandon’s death was in many ways like living autumn. We watched as a vigorous, vital man in his prime became more vivid in many ways. Yet we also observed as his body revealed that he would soon have to “let go” of his branch on the family tree and drift from his physical body.
I look at the changing color on the trees covering the hills of my beautiful Ohio River Valley, and I’m more aware of each individual leaf – aware that the life of each leaf is coming to an end. Walking a path in the Great Smokies National Park a few weeks ago, I got caught in a shower of yellowed ash leaves newly departed from their tree branches. I felt the touch of each separately as leaves rained down on me. Never before have I been as acutely aware of how the vibrancy and vigor of life is juxtaposed during autumn with the beauty and desolation of death.
Nature prepares us for a leaf’s death by clothing it in vibrant, awe-inspiring color, making one take notice as it clings to the branch, and then as, still beautiful but already dead, it lets go and flutters to the ground. Awe is replaced by a kind of sadness when that same leaf turns brown, no longer allowing for the illusion of colorful life. Yet, in spite of witnessing these changes, winter somehow seems to sneak up and come as a surprise.
There is an amazing kind of beauty in being part of a dying. There is beauty in the bones of the sharply etched facial features and the slender fingers of a body emaciated by a disease such as cancer. There is a unique vibrancy in every word uttered, every breath completed, every movement made, every touch experienced. Even until Brandon’s last breath, I “bought” the illusion that he wouldn’t die, because it simply was unimaginable that someone so loved and so full of life could no longer be part of our landscape; at the same time I was much too aware that soon all would turn gray-brown.
In spite of living autumn that spring of 2012, winter still snuck up and came as a surprise.