In piedmont North Carolina the five autumn weeks before Thanksgiving are the season when deciduous trees display their peak colors. It’s interesting that while many of us love the fall foliage, like this soaring flame-orange maple, the bright shades cause a darkening of our spirits, too. We suffer a little under the confusing disconnect of brilliant beauty portending the coming of winter. That’s a hard message to take in. Because our psyches equate the seasons of the year with the stations of our lives, all types of literature and movies set their scenes in spring, summer, autumn, or winter to symbolize the varying human moods conventionally related to the passage of time–and thus the passage of our lives.
We can become morose in the season of “the sere, the yellow leaf” as the drying leaves, losing their green chlorophyll, remind us of our own bodily imperfections. And from that thought it’s just a short step to sensing the limitations of time, our time, in the rotary blades of mortality hovering overhead. Next question? How long do we have until our winter arrives? The Darkest Season.
Conversely, it is easy to feel our life core radiate at the first sign of spring. As spring also hosts the Easter holiday, the powerful symbolism of a promised rebirth fortifies our spirits along with the beauty of greening trees and flowers on every hand. No dissonance there between beauty and life.
How unfortunate indeed, though, if we allow ourselves the easy perception of our lives as a road dotted with signposts marking how much farther the road–our existence–stretches into the future. How unfortunate if we allow the trees of autumn to pull our sensibilities in the conventional downward direction of thought and mood!
In my book Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace (Chapel Hill Press, 2008), I consider an alternative view of this journey:
… I am comforted at this stage of my terrestrial time by having witnessed the extraordinary grace outwardly manifested and inwardly held by many old souls. Their being stands in stark contrast to those listless lives that bring to mind someone’s rowing a boat to the middle of a lake with the sole objective of allowing it to sink. I’m convinced the latter constituency inspired the recent bumper sticker, “Having a wonderful time; wish I was here.”
Some believe that all decisions are made on insufficient evidence. There was a time I agreed—but not now. For example, the decision of how I conduct my earthly affairs is contingent upon one irrefutable fact: the Lord has already deeded me more breaths of life than He will from this day forward. By inference and by arithmetic I conclude that each moment before me is more valuable than those expired. After all, the value of most everything rests on the proposition that the rarer the object, the greater its worth. Any economist will tell you about supply and demand and lay down countless examples. It’s pretty simple—there’s a lot more coal than diamonds, so you put diamonds in a safe and burn coal! Clearly, there is sufficient evidence to counsel that a person in my predicament should slow down and “savor” the time left. To paraphrase my buddy Jimmy Buffett, should I be further advised to live my life in three-quarters time?
Actually, I prefer that the metronome of life be set on the highest pace possible. Think about it. When does each second seem as if it’s being dragged through a tar pit? When we’re wrapped around a tedious project like a man bound to a tree.
Conversely, what is the healthiest symptom of being engaged in anything new or exciting? The answer—time flies by. What could be sadder than to be fixated on the quantitative feature of our lives only to lessen our focus on its wonder? Furthermore, that we can’t divine how many ticks are left on the game clock is simply one more of life’s mysteries. And when you come to the realization that you’ve celebrated the major part of your time on this rock, take it as good news and proof positive that John the Evangelist was right—the truth will set you free! Free to focus on the wonders all around and consider and learn what you can from and about life’s mysteries.
When I awoke to these truths and mysteries of time, I stumbled upon an interesting article about the theories of physicist Julian Barker. Dr. Barker has some extraordinary notions. Although his views contradict all commonly held beliefs on the nature of time, prominent physicists around the world take them seriously. Still, even Dr. Barker finds his theories hard to accept. You see, he believes that time doesn’t exist. He says time is merely the product of human perception. In Dr. Barker’s world each moment of our lives—our birth, death, and everything in between—exists forever. Therefore, we don’t pass through time. We’re always locked into “now” and we move from one “now” to the next. In addition, he believes that each instant presents an entirely new universe, like so many Polaroid pictures stacked one upon the next.
While I would never trivialize the work of such a gifted scientist, it did strike me that if you grind Dr. Barker’s ideas down to a fine point you might say his concepts bring new meaning to the adage “Live for the moment.” Is each moment of our lives meant to be so special that it will in some incarnation last forever? We may never know, but don’t we all remember, almost like an engraved keepsake, at least one span of time when our consciousness forfeited its concern for all else but the moment? When you came to a speck in time in a completely non-judgmental fashion? And your intellect realized that no state of mind was preferable to another? When was the last time your mind could repel all uninvited subject matter?
You know what I’m asking—when was the last time you were totally lost in the moment?
When you linked in conscious reflection that at Thanksgiving not only do we audibly give our annual, cultural praise and gratitude for the harvest, but we silently accept (and praise!) a mature, somber knowledge that some worthy moments also link beauty and death—the flame-bright maple and the coming dark, cold night of the seasons? Being “lost in the moment” doesn’t mean we lose touch with this second, darker perception.
My friends, the fact is not one of us knows what The Master of All Seasons has in store for us. What I know for sure is that he has given me this moment of Thanksgiving with the hope, the expectation, that I come to know what every living moment is–an irreplaceable miracle. EACH moment, not just the ones of my first thirty years. Not just the ones of spring and summer. That is more than enough for any one of us to get our minds around. Suffering over the divine mystery of whether we will see ourselves through the coming winter is more than we are meant to bear!