We’ve been swooshed into November as though through a leaf-vacuum. I did get the spring bulbs planted before the end of October; gold star for me!! But, ooh — the weeds!! Now, as the leaves begin to carpet the ground, we are seeing the amazing bones of the trees. I think branches etched against the background of sky are some really fine art. All the leaves on our trees turned to brilliant yellow just this past week and now we are getting the color we usually get in mid-October, but the winds are blowing that color off very quickly.
The grayness that comes with autumn here in the northeast is definitely a problem. SAD is well-named. The lack of sunshine brings on depression and sadness even though we know well that there is blue sky above those clouds. Three things I find helpful: a sunshine light, an adjustment of my perspective for the day, and the patience to remember that tomorrow will, quite likely, be better. Because even though winter looms and gray skies abound, there is a subtle beauty if one looks: waving brown grasses with tasseled, seeded or burry tops —- piles of fallen leaves in varying shades of gold and browns —- dark green branches of conifers —– soft silvery skies full of rain—— sunsets of rich reds, pale pinks and lavender —– and a shining disc giving off moonlight with an occasional panorama of stars. Whatever fast track we are on, it is a blessing to slow down; to really register the beautiful things around us, for our spirits will be soothed and brightened. Sogyal Rinpoche* says: “Be alert for any sign of beauty or grace. Offer up every joy. Be awake at all moments.” And —- turn off the phones!!
The turkeys are still with us. They have a variety of sounds from their usual gabbling to an un-oiled gate hinge to a kittenish wail, and are quick to run or fly when startled. Their big feet have cleaned up a couple of weedy areas far better than I could by hoeing. Their feathers gleam in the sun with shades of brown, copper, bronze, and the merest touch of indigo. The younger cats follow them and lie watching, but our older fluffy gray cat will occasionally take off after a whole flock of young toms, who then go racing up the hill to the woods — complaining all the way. Freckles cornered one in his pen and then obviously thought — “NOW what???” Of course, it got away.
Speaking of gabbling, we have just gone through an intensely divisive election time. In addition to incivility and considerable stretching of the truth, what I noticed most was a problem on all sides with the expression of ideas and the hearing filter of those who listen. Sometimes our own thoughts confuse what we are hearing. People tend to listen for sound bites instead of full content; we often are too busy thinking of what we want to say next, instead of actually hearing. This lack of attention isn’t just in the political arena; it seems to be universal. Do we hear all of what someone says, use selective hearing or just totally tune someone out?
Many of us, of a certain age, are dealing with real hearing disabilities. For some, turning up the volume or having a hearing aid helps. I need people to enunciate clearly; otherwise, the words can be a blur even when I clearly hear the sound. Apparently the ear drum thickens with age, and becomes less receptive to sounds that are way high or way low. This is annoying enough, but even worse is when speaking, I think I’m making myself quite clear, and then see a look of incomprehension on the face of the person listening. Is it my language? Might it be their hearing? And even after 50+ years, this still happens in a conversation between Kerm and me. Curious!!
Many years ago, when asked if I’d rather lose my sight or my hearing, I said, “my sight”!—— not expecting problems with either! While blindness sounds difficult, I would far more miss being able to hear beautiful music and conversation among friends. So now that my eyesight is an issue, I’m very happy to have my hearing even with its minor tune-outs. My speech has neither faded nor wavered, as my family could testify, but a bit more clarity in expression might be good. ☺ Maybe we all need to think more carefully about how we say something and then edit again to determine if it’s accurate and complete. And most crucial, before uttering any words at all, remember to do the basic check: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it necessary? 3) Is it kind? Of course, when at home, being just a trifle snide about some politician is a useful venting tool and hopefully will be forgiven!
There is another area of communication that we all neglect; that of building people up. We are more prone to criticize than to affirm. And we are so quick to express disapproval of something that is alien to our own experiences. If I could re-do one thing in raising our sons, it would be to tell them more often how well they were doing, speak more about their good qualities, and make sure they knew how delighted with them we were. As many parents do, we probably dwelled more on their failings than was really necessary. (This is not to say there weren’t some occasions that required straight talk!!) Married couples often fall into that same trap. We are silent about the good things and very verbal about what makes us unhappy. Perhaps we should adopt the old child psychology suggestion, that we sandwich an admonition in between two compliments. It might be difficult at first, but practice would make us all more adept.
I recently read a poem that speaks to our difficulty in exchanging ideas and thoughts, and actually world peace: “All people are children when they sleep. There’s no war in them then……..They……open their hands halfway, soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters……..If only we could speak to one another then when our hearts are half-open flowers, words like golden bees would drift in.”** As they say, timing is everything!!
I began this essay with a complaint about our gray skies and lack of sunshine. Apparently there is yet another lack that brings on gloom and doom——- lack of stimulation and growth. William Butler Yeats*** says: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” This bit of wisdom could encourage us to continue maturing in understanding of life, of our spiritual selves, and in finding things that interest us. Health gurus tell us to keep moving. A few years ago, I attended a series of art classes. The instructor and most of the attendees were painters — skilled ones. I am not adept in oils, acrylics or water colors even though I appreciate all three. But just listening and watching triggered all sorts of ideas for what I’m better at, and I felt energetic and glad to be there. Currently, a weekly women’s Bible study offers bits of spiritual growth each time we meet. The exchange of ideas, how we look at Scripture (sometimes differently), learning the stories and the open sharing are all as growth-inspiring as vitamin pills for the body. It may be more comfortable to cozy in by the fire and lose one’ self between the pages of a book — and I will certainly continue to do that —but balance is important, and if I want to diminish the emotional effect of our standard time and late fall weather, I will also trundle myself outside and maybe off to something with inspiring new ideas that might even impact someone’s good in addition to mine.
On the most November-ish of days, after political turmoil and after disasters, this poem is one I read often as a comfort, reminder and refresher. It is good for any time of the year, but perhaps especially so as the days darken, as life feels stressful, and we feel more closed in.
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry****
“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound;
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,
And the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief;
I come into the presence of still water,
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Sogyal Rinpoch –Tibetan Lama of French citizenship. Born in 1947
**Jan Karon – American writer of the Mitford novels. Born in 1937
***William Butler Yeats—Irish poet and playwright. 1865-1939.
**** Wendell Berry—American novelist, poet, environmental activist and farmer. Born in 1934.