It’s quite possible that fall is everyone’s favorite season. Not too hot, not to cool – in the immortal words of Goldilocks, it’s just right. Never mind that the calendar year begins in January, instinctively we all consider fall to mark the real beginning of the year. Inscribed in our minds from our deepest childhood memories of new teachers, new classmates, and the latest back to school fashions, fall will forever mark the beginning of the new year. Following the rest and renewal of summer, fall is a time for new beginnings and new possibilities.
Fall is a time of harvest when we celebrate the work that our hands have accomplished in prior seasons. Winter may have its blanket of soft white, spring its explosion of every pastel hue available to the finest impressionist painter, and summer every shade of green and the brilliance of a hot ball of fire to light our days. But fall…oh fall. In you we savor the final explosion of the Creator’s paintbrush before the whole earth goes silent and hibernates in its covering of grey and white.
My soul longs to imagine that this is the perfect season. My critical eye scans the landscape as I walk, when I drive, seeking out a flawless grove of trees where no barren limbs can be seen and all of summer’s green has turned into a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows. I hunt for it as though, once found, I could gulp it down and hold it locked within me to warm me forever.
This is the season I feel I must protect. I fret that the color show hasn’t begun on time. I fret that the trees won’t turn brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion. I fret that an untimely storm may come and wash it all away before I’ve had my fill of its splendor. And I fret about the new season that will replace this one when all this beauty is but a distant memory.
I imagine perfection is to be found tangled in the beauty before me. And so, my mind’s eye erases what it does not want to see. If I squint just a little bit, the reds and oranges come into relief and the bare branches recede into obscurity. But the camera tells a different story.
This has been an unusual fall for us in the Northeast. With temperatures still in the 60s most days, fall emerges for a day or two and then retreats again under the cover of lush greenery. Impatient, many trees have dropped their leaves before others have even begun their annual autumnal show. Our locust trees have long ago shed their lacey golden crown. Most of the sycamore and English plane trees have suffered blight this year that has singed their leaves brown, causing them to curl inward, dry and decaying before their inevitable descent to the ground. Their grand trunks, clothed in mottled white and army fatigue gray bark, stand sentry, bare, with no blanket of golden yellow to shelter them. And all the while, the proud maples stand tall and green refusing to let a few cooler nights coax them into revealing their majestic hues of crimson, burgundy and pure fire.
The trees have not turned brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion this year.
My search for perfection is not limited to my visual appreciation for autumnal splendor. If truth be told, I seek perfection in the seasons of my own life. My heart longs to discover perfect moments, perfect days, perfect seasons and settle right in, imagining that all will go according to my tidy organized plan, and that no storms will come to wash away the splendor of that perfect season of my life.
I seek out moments when all of my children are healthy and content, where marriage is sweet and friendships are honest and life-giving. Where work is fulfilling and we can taste the financial security that comes from a job well rewarded. Where academic pursuits are enriching and doctor visits are few. Where our cars run smoothly, the hot water heater hasn’t exploded, and there are no sudden trips to the ER.
I seek out these moments as if by capturing them I could hold onto them like so many lightening bugs captured in a glass jar. But perfect moments can’t be frozen in time any more than lightening bugs can light up the night forever. Their glow only lasts so long before it flickers out and all we’re left with is a bug in a jar.
Is there a lesson for me in the perfectly imperfect autumn display of 2017?
The natural world tells us that nothing is perfect, that beauty and decay co-exist side by side in every landscape, in every season. I would do well to learn from nature’s example and not to keep seeking out that one perfect season. Every season of our lives is filled with joy and pain, light and dark, growth and decay, ascent and descent.
It is in accepting the decay that I am better able to see the beauty.
Fall may be my favorite season, but it is not a perfect one. How could it be? No one season, no one event, no one person is capable of containing all the fullness of perfection. Only God can do that, for God alone is pure and lovely, perfect and filled with light.
And so I open wide my half-slit eyes and gaze in wonder that any of this beauty is mine to behold at all. And I see it all for perhaps the first time. The mops of green remind me of the sweetness of what was, while the bare branches prepare me to accept what will be. And in the reds and oranges and yellows I am thankful for the joy that comes in appreciating what is.