Glorious summer! My favorite part of life is growth- watching my children grow, my plants blossom, my students learn and become adults. But life isn’t just growth, it is seasons. Seasons pass. Sometimes their passage takes us unaware, sometimes we celebrate their end and look forward to the new, sometimes we mourn that they are over, but regardless they cycle. It is an electrifying jolt when a new life is conceived, and a stabbing heartache as a life comes to an end.
We had an elderly aunt visit recently. The aunt is in her eighties, the same age as my grandfather, but fortunately her health allows her to travel. She is visiting her nieces and nephews as a last hurrah. We took her on a boat ride today to experience East Texas and the magnificent bayou of Caddo Lake. Our group weighed down the swamp boat- my sister-in-law with her lovely rounding belly, expecting in December, flanked on either side by her young children, nieces and nephews. The middle generation, initiating both the older and younger on an adventuresome, drifting tour winding through the bald cypress hung with Spanish moss. The call of egrets and herons, the buzz of insects, and perspiration beading through the sunscreen and bug spray.
The night before, the elder aunt and I had a special chat about life and acceptance as it comes to an end and the next generation continues. This was an especially poignant talk for me as my grandfather is struggling and the years are exacting their toll on his body.
We all have invisible clocks, ticking away in our genes, in the passage of time, in the events that will eventually converge as the end of our chapter. We are all chapters in a greater story. Chapters end, but they build on the previous and lead to the next. It is a cruel gift, to know that we cannot live forever, but with that knowledge have the gift of appreciating the moment and our contribution to the story.
It is so wrenchingly sad and achingly beautiful to see a life lived to its very end. My grandfather, a loving interaction between a family homestead and a rancher, his enduring spirit passed on through his children and a plot of hill country land. His soul is as much a part of where he was born and will die as the oak tree that has stood watch over the same plot of land. The oak tree that as a seedling shaded a baby, as a mature tree held a daughter’s tree house under the stars, cradled a reading grandchild, witnessed a marriage, and now whose limbs sag with age.
It whirls and twirls, this summertime, merry-go-round life. We laugh raucously and get dizzy as it spins. Our hearts beat fast with excitement, the wind catches in our throat as it whips by, and the reflection of sunlight dazzles our eyes. It is a kaleidoscope of sensation. We grasp sweaty hands to counter the pull as our comrades slide outwards from us. Sometimes the pull is stronger than our grip and with a squeal and loss of a tenuous hold, a loved one has been flung off the spinning ride. Sometimes we cannot hold on tight enough. Though we desperately try, the pull is inexorable. But the ride, oh the ride is glorious and the laughter rings in our ears.