By Fran Lavelle
Autumn comes, even to Mississippi. Perhaps not in the same way as I remember the autumns of my childhood, but it comes, nonetheless. In my mind’s eye I can still see the hills and valleys covered in color swept deciduous trees. The colors, like a patchwork quilt, of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges. Cooling temperatures and open windows at night were the first signs that change was literally in the air. Like diligent ants we stored up the remaining fragments of summer. Apple butter was made in a large copper kettle slowly simmered over a wood fire outdoors. The last of the season’s hay was stacked and stored for winter’s consumption. Field corn was cut and stored in the corn crib. Sweaters and sweatshirts were emancipated from their storage bags and our summer attire was stored away for next year.
Autumn is a special season for many reasons. School is fully underway. Football dominates the airwaves. The temperatures are slightly cooler, and the vestiges of tailgates, hayrides and bonfires are palatable. In the life of the church, autumn represents the beginning of our preparation for the end. Soon will end another liturgical year and reflected in its last days our annual reminder of our own last days. We celebrate All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day to remember and honor those who have gone before us. We are called to a stillness in the wake of these autumn days to contemplate our own journey of life and faith.
We have a choice to make as we settle into our autumn. We can hit the pause button and make some time for reflection, or we can burn through the next few months like a well-trained thoroughbred destined to win the Holiday Triple Crown. You know an award worthy yard bedecked with all things Halloween, a Pinterest perfect Thanksgiving and a Griswold meets Martha Stewart Christmas light display. Please don’t get me wrong, I love good décor and I absolutely love a good party. Did anyone say chardonnay? Keep doing the festive things that bring people together in a joyful way. I am in. In the midst of the Holiday Triple Crown, it is also a season that calls us to contemplation and prayer.
I have seen a multiplication of grey hairs in the past few years. Determined to – as the Beatles would say, let it be – I am choosing not to dye it. Rather, I am using it as a reminder as I pass through each season of the year that I am also privileged to pass through these seasons of life. I’m on the countdown for a big birthday next year that starts with 6 and ends with Ohhh! Taking advantage of the opportunities to be more reflective and live more intentionally become more urgent with each passing year.
Yes, the rituals surrounding the seasons can create powerful touch tones that remind us of the sweetness of this life. They can become place markers that keep us connected to our past and serve as reminders to keep making memories as we continue on the journey. But they can also be important touch tones that remind us of things eternal. I remember after my Dad died; I was thinking about his legacy. It made me think about my own. Not legacy like that of a major sports figure or noted philanthropist, but legacy in the ordinary ways that we are called to love and to serve. What was I doing to leave this world better for having me in it? That reflective moment nearly 30 years ago in October was the seed that germinated to become the vocation I live out today.
There are no do-overs in life when it comes to days. They are here and then they are a memory. I am reminded of a line from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” – “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
No one is promised tomorrow so for today let’s vow to get busy living. And by living we are not merely existing or stringing together weeks into months into years and calling it good. Living as intentional, reflective, prayerful companions on the journey. Choosing to will the good of the other above ourselves. Choosing to love unconditionally. Choosing to let God guide our steps and the Holy Spirit illuminate the path so that others may follow our example.
Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I challenge you to find time in these early days of autumn to take the time to reflect on the gift of the life you have been given. Look back on your memories of the autumns of your life. We can learn so much about God and ourselves in this season of change.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)