2020 is edging toward completion; nature’s cycle has once more come to maturity and plentitude. Our fields, gardens and countryside have yielded food for our bodies and beauty for our souls. Twilight comes earlier and already the first frost has reminded us that all of life here on earth is temporary. Autumn is a time for long, quiet walks through fallen leaves; it is a time for discovering the meaning in all our labors; it is a time for reverencing the rhythm of the seasons and giving thanks.
There is a certain poignancy about autumn, a mixture of sadness and gratitude, an experience of harvest and fruitfulness juxtaposed to loss and letting go. If a loved one has died this past year we know this duel experience most keenly. At any given moment, quite outside our control, when we’re feeling the loss so sharply, we may suddenly be overwhelmed with a profound gratitude for their life, their goodness, humor, generosity, idiosyncrasies, and unique lovableness. How lucky we are to have been influenced and loved by them!
Of all life’s manifold forms we humans are the only species, as far as we know, aware of our mortality. Now, it’s true that many of us don’t like to think about dying (or at least not yet, we say!) Still, I believe that we will not become truly grateful people until we have embraced the mystery of autumn, i.e., at any given age a life comes to fullness and then lets go. A person who has a close brush with death discovers a new gratitude about being alive. A cataract removed makes one appreciate sight. A terminally ill cancer patient celebrates the first flower of spring or a bird’s song in a way he or she never before did. A grateful heart develops, in large part, from this experience of temporariness.
It is good to ponder death, not because we’re morbid, not because we see it as an escape from the difficulties of life, not even to frighten us into conversion. It is good to be reminded that life with its multitude of blessings and loves should never be taken for granted. Brother David Steindl-rast believes that gratefulness is the heart of prayer. We come closest to God, are most at peace and overflow with a quiet joy when we are simply aware of life around us. Gratitude wells up in us like living water. Our senses become alert to our surroundings, thus enabling us to drink in beauty previously unappreciated. Because we are aware of the temporality of childhood, we take time to play with our children while they are young. Because people grow up, move away, and eventually die, we pause now, while they are still with us to notice their goodness, their thirst for life, their efforts for the common good, and we love them anew with hearts full of gratitude.
November begins with an invitation to ponder death and those who have died. November comes to an end with Thanksgiving. We have seen so much loss in 2020. In the depths of those losses may we find the seeds of gratitude that will bear fruit in greater wisdom, compassion, and empathy, and a greater love for those who share our earthly journey – for as long as we accompany one another here.
A Blessed Thanksgiving!