September–November in Minnesota have always been my favorite months. Rather than seeing endings, I usually see new beginnings. I love to wear deep hues, leather boots and hygge-perfect sweaters. I delight in everything pumpkin. The feeling of a crisp Autumn breeze is one of my most treasured seasonal experiences. My body takes great pleasure in these months as my energy literally soars. My skin holds a certain glow unlike any other season. It is no stretch or exaggeration to say that my soul breathes in the presence of bright yellows, energetic oranges, and deep reds.
And yet, just a little over a year ago, I began writing about a harrowing realization. While gazing over an autumn clad valley, it occurred to me that this varied beauty comes directly from death.
When a leaf changes color, it is not doing so just to shed one set of clothes for a new one. No, that leaf is dying. One valley holds a thousand, million, trillion, deaths on every single tree. It’s not just a life cycle thing – these particular leaves will never again be on branches. The falling leaves will never again hold life. When Spring eventually rolls around, new buds on the tress will sprout. But those new green things are not in any way the same as, or replacements for their predecessors. There is a season for these leaves to be born, to grow, to hold insects, and to display the unseeable wind. And then there is this season for leaves to clothe themselves in bold and breathtaking hues; colors which only manifest as they die.
In the Western culture of my heritage, death is nearly always associated with an end. While new beginnings often seem ripe with opportunity, final resting is rarely celebrated. For example, when a baby is born, there is great and colorful rejoicing! Yet, at a funeral, black-clad somber faces line every space. Beginnings hold hope, endings dump dread. And this is also true of the seasons leading up to them, I think. In pregnancy we hold anticipation for our new baby. Terminal illness, however, stops smiles.
So isn’t it interesting, then, that in Autumn nature, the opposite is true? The golden hour in the lifetime of a leaf is that which it finds after a frost in the crisp air of October.
Have you seen that movie with Will Smith yet? Don’t worry, I’ll try not to reveal spoilers. But if you’re looking for a thought-provoking, might-make-you-cry, but not quite as emotionally draining as This Is Us, movie: I highly recommend Collateral Beauty. In it, Will Smith’s character, Howard, attempts to face life after incredible loss. The script surmises that it is valuable to keep your eyes open during terrible sorrow in order that you might see the unintended or at least unexpected beautiful things that happen around or even because of suffering. If you close your mind to possibilities of anything but sadness, you may miss the collateral – the unintended – beauty.
The loss of a loved one sucks. It just does. I do believe that my late husband is in Heaven, and there is joy in knowing that He is with the Lord – yet we who are left may continue to suffer sadness until we join him. That may be a full lifetime of wrestling with sorrow. After Eric’s death, people approached and wrote to me that there would be blessings to follow this tragedy. That even in my pain there was beauty rising from the ashes. And I didn’t want to hear it! Not then, not ever, I supposed. “They want to tell me it’ll be ok, but that’s not what I need right now. Not while my house is burning down” – “Not Right Now” Jason Gray).
And time does NOT heal all wounds. And every single person grieves differently. There are actually no rules about how to grieve. Yet, in my own wrestle with the beast, I’ve been learning to acknowledge some pretty significant beauty rising from the ashes. All around me, though bouts of sadness still creep into happy days and times, blessings have also been presenting themselves in bold hues and joyful varieties.
I have learned that, for me, it is the lowest lows that create the highest highs. Hilltops follow heartache. Enlightenment follows disillusionment. Through my saddest tragedy, my Father never let go of my hand. As we walked low in the valley of the shadow of death, He gave me eyes to see new colors I had never imagined.
Beauty above the valley
On a road trip during Autumn one year, Eric and I were stunned into silence by the colors in that same valley and the bluffs above it. “Do you suppose that there are more colors there than our eyes can even believe? Do you think with fresh heavenly eyes, we’ll be able to see them all when we arrive there?” I asked the question, but Eric now knows the answer. I suspect that just as my eyes were opened to new colors after tragedy, I will behold more breathtaking sights beyond earth’s confines. Someday, in Heaven, we’ll see a blaze of beauty in seasons which we cannot yet fathom.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
And yet, there glows another tree. Flowing in the breeze a golden leaf and a crisp Autumn smell of lovely things. This is still my favorite season. My body is here in the beauty I can see, in the joy that varying colors truly bring. In paradoxical glory, this season of some things dying signals life for me.