Beginnings lead to endings. Everybody knows that. Not so obvious is that endings lead to beginnings, even though we accept that a grain of wheat must die to produce fruit. We more than accept it. We take it so for granted that we don’t need to spare it a thought.
Many years ago, I used to spend impatient Mays and Junes waiting for leaves and flowers to pass away before wild strawberries and Long John blackberries replaced them in July. Juicy and sweet and delicious! What a celebration of death!
Then what is this unease as the signs of summer die, one by one? At the shore the crowds of vacationers have thinned out. Those still here no longer dress for the sun but for the cold wind that has taken over. September’s colors are as exciting as any that July produced but the yellows and reds of the wreaths that many of us hang on our doors have a desperate quality, a manufactured insistence on life and color.
Today is the first day of fall but the sense of an ending overpowers any notion of a beginning.
Too fanciful? Probably. But true, at a deeper level. The passing of spring into summer is child’s play. The berry season. The transition of summer into fall is serious business; it hints at the reality of what Harry Potter knows as Voldemort, the Dark Lord of winter whose name means Wind of Death.
One of the most valuable literary truths I learned was the phrase pathetic fallacy, usually defined as the attributing of human emotion and conduct to aspects of nature, e.g., angry clouds or dancing leaves. I prefer a related meaning: nature as a mirror of human feelings, such as rain expressing tears or wind shrieking out of human loss.
Pathetic, indeed, and particularly applicable to this season. On some days it’s possible to see in the clouds and the surf a recognition of desolate things and approaching endings. Fall is well-named, isn’t it? The word autumnis so harmless, but fall really speaks meaning. It speaks the relentless, unavoidable plunge into winter. And winter speaks dying.
But . . . if dying were the final end, if berries were not born from the death of flowers, if swimmers and surfers were not—at this very moment of packing up for home—planning for next summer at the shore . . .
And if spring were not the weather of Resurrection, then the sadness of summer dying would be as infectious as our emotions say it is. But, influential as they are, we are more than our emotions and spring is the weather of Resurrection.
It’s really a temptation to quote Shelley’s famous line: “O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” But that’s really too slick an ending and it overlooks any value that Winter brings. Spring is pretty far behind, winter will be cold, slippery and difficult to navigate, and sad things will happen
But how real would it be to exclude sad things? They’re part of it. So are beginnings and meanings that knit together all our time into the evolving wholes of life. The whole moving calendar of life. Moving toward an eternal season of Resurrection.