Like many people, (especially here in the Northeast) autumn is my favorite season. There is something about the change of the air in late August, when the nights get cooler and the days crisp, that makes me feel hopeful. I like cozy sweaters and hot apple cider. I like lighting candles and making chicken soup. There’s a tree in our neighbor’s yard that turns brilliant orange every year and holds forth in all its beauty.
And then it’s gone, right? The wind comes up or the rain falls and all those brilliant leaves become a carpet on the ground, browning at the edges. People go out with their rakes and blowers and children jump into piles…. It sometimes feels like it is over before it even began. Perhaps that’s what makes it so special.
When I started my business two years ago, I knew I wanted to help people mark the transitions in their lives. Those big things like deaths, weddings, births, retirements. One thing I learned from being a pastor for 18 years (and being a human for 45) is that in order to transition from one phase of life to the next, we need to be able to let go. I embraced the words of Wendell Berry as a poetic expression of my work:
When I rise up / let me rise up joyful / like a bird.
When I fall / let me fall without regret / like a leaf.
Today, along with helping people through big life changes, I find I am walking with more and more people just trying to navigate the roller coaster of day-to-day life in 2020. Grief. Trauma. Uncertainty. Questions about the meaning of life. It is difficult to fall without regret when you don’t know where you are going to land.
Last month, a colleague and I hosted a four-week workshop series called Journey with Death. During the four weeks, asked people to consider their eventual death through a variety of exercises. The hope is that, through facing death, one can develop a greater purpose and appreciation for life. During the first week, we invited our participants into an exercise of “seeing the end of all things.” Eventually, everything comes to an end – our relationships, our possessions, our work, our current way of life. The leaves fall one by one. If we hold on to things lightly, even those things that matter most to us, we can always be in a state of appreciating and letting go.
I don’t want to imply that I have achieved that state yet, myself. I do find it comforting to contemplate, to practice. The art holding lightly. The freedom in letting go. Recognizing our lack of control. Perhaps this is the wisdom that the trees teach us. They don’t over think it…. or at least most of them don’t. There is always that one tree that doesn’t shed it leaves, whose leaves become dry and brittle against the winter snows until they are torn from the branch. Most trees, though, release their leaves when it is time.
Perhaps this season can inspire us to hold our lives lightly. Practice letting go while holding on. Holding on while letting go. Be human. And….
When you rise up / rise up joyful / like a bird.
When you fall / fall without regret / like a leaf.