Stringing Up Lights in August
Fog greets me these mid-August mornings, the first birch leaves shiver into weary lavender. Long after the torrid nights of summer’s barbecues, I am stringing strands of lights from the garage to my deck.
Anyone looking in would conclude that I’ve lost the almanac, so terribly out of sync as the good times are about to end. But I have my reasons.
Summer, that necessary oasis of soggy paperbacks, sunburns, and farmer’s markets will soon disenthrall itself as pale grass and scrub. My life ratchets up dramatically in the coming weeks with the start of the academic year and a return to sessions with spiritual directees, retreats and workshops. The time of sweet, lazy extroversion and sensory overload, berry picking and dinners overlooking spectacular lakes, is at an end. In just a week, we will move indoors and to our desks – simultaneously inward and more focused.
“July is so nice,” a colleague recently commented. “You don’t have to think, and you imagine that it will ever end.”
It is true. But it does.
I have come to see August as the essential bridge time in my own journey of awareness. Ahead lie the purposeful days. Behind, those of exploration, discovery and pleasure. I have a choice. I can close my eyes and blunder ahead, as I have at times done, stuffing my dread at the train coming at me with high-speed whatevers — exercise, stimulants, you name it. Or I can see this time as a gradual crossing, full of the possibility of discernment, mindfulness, and intention.
Yesterday as I was pondering August having entered like a thief in the night, I dashed out to the bank to make a deposit. Coming back out, I was stopped by the body of a male goldfinch on the pavement beside my car door. It couldn’t have died more than a few moments before, its driven-white down gently jostled by the breeze. It was a thing of beauty and sorrow there on the hard gray concrete. Its upturned breast was still, its tiny legs stark against the staggeringly beautiful goldenrod and coreopsis yellows of its feathers. Its brief life of song and color and flight was over; its service to life ably rendered. And now it felt an offering I hadn’t asked for.
In the cosmic sense its life mattered every bit as much as mine does – my real life, that is. The life I am meant to live, if I am mindful enough to remember (or learn) its song and flight patterns. It made me wonder, would I be able to say the same of my own service to life if it ended just now in a suburban parking lot?
I suspect that the way we cross over into harvest time determines the quality of our experience in the darker, colder days – literally and metaphorically. Each August we get the chance to practice what eventually will be the performance of our lives: old age and death.
And so I begin to take out the old clothes and old commitments, look at what fits and what no longer does. Slowly. I get rid of what chaff I can. I look at bad habits that need pruning, mistakes that need righting. Mostly, I try to clear away the inessential so that I can look at what truly warrants attention and care during the months ahead.
It bears remembering that autumn asks a different kind of growth from us than do the come-what-may days of summer. We need to learn, among other things, to do without goldfinches.
And so I string up lights, to remind me of them. It’s the best way I know to prepare for the gathering darkness.