by the Rev. Barbara Threet
Mid-August. The days are still longer than the nights, the trees are still overwhelmingly green, and the children still run about in shorts and bare feet, at least in the country. School hasn’t started up yet (or regular services at most UU churches either), and anything that closes after Labor Day is still open. But still, we know that autumn is coming, and after that, the winter.
“How softly summer shuts,” Emily Dickinson wrote, “without the creaking of a door.” And David Blanchard, in his UU meditation manual A Temporary State of Grace, writes, “Even now, leaves have begun to drop from trees, green and brittle. Gardens are about ready to give up. Sunflowers slouch as if they’d like to lie down and rest for a while. And, of course, the light is changing. The shadows come earlier, and stretch out longer on our lawns. We humans begin our short migration indoors. It happens. It’s already begun.”
And so it has.
I love this time of year, this season of slow and significant transition. As a child, August meant it was almost time for school to start again, and new clothes for that first day; a new pencil box, and my brain shifting from the lethargy of summer to the sharp and wonderful discoveries of the autumn. There were clear markers – the school bus appearing again, a new teacher. Much of life has clear markers for children: a first step, losing the first tooth, a first kiss, a driver’s license, the day one leaves the confines and predictability of home for the freedom (and terror) of a college dorm.
But now, it’s a slower migration from season to season. The sunflowers slouch for weeks before they eventually drop. The lettuce has long since given up, and the peas – but those zucchini may go on for months yet! My knees slowly creak a bit more from year to year: I can’t sit cross-legged on the floor any more, let alone get up gracefully, but I can still hike most anywhere. The changes are slower, the migration to winter a lot softer, whether it’s the winter of one year’s calendar or the winter of a life.
And the challenge becomes not so much to grasp each milestone and march quickly from one to another, but to slow down and notice how softly summer shuts, how softly children grow (and grandchildren too), how softly knees begin to creak, how softly leaves and then snow falls and how softly buds open again, and how softly life flows on. Oh, there are still plenty of stand-out milestones – a birth, a death, a move, a discovery – but there’s also a softness, a recognition that life is a finely-woven tapestry with all sorts of inter-weavings and references back and forth, not a series of individual events in a careful straight line. And the doors, where there are any at all, close softly, not with a final bang.
May your August end gently, and may we gather again in September in joy.
Shalom and Salaam,