Autumn is the season more than any other that teaches us the hard lesson of the impermanence of everything. Autumn is the first sign we don’t live forever. While this is a hard truth to learn, autumn also teaches us the impermanence of death. Harvest festivals the world over are celebrated as a way of giving thanks for the bounty reaped after a year of hard work. It was Jesus who first used wheat as a metaphor for a resurrected life. By using wheat Jesus was teaching us the natural cycle of life comes from things dieing before new life can arise from them. Autumn, and with it the harvest, is that sign for us. Just as seeds must die and cease to be seeds in order to become life giving food, so too must we all die someday, and in this death we too are transformed into something life giving. Our bodies are returned to the ground and all that made us is redistributed into nature and becomes something else. One of the best insights on the eternal re-cycling of the elements that make us us came the day when I read that everything in us, everything that make us up, all the elements we are were once in a star. We are in reality star dust. It was one of those eye opening moments for me. I learned that though I die, I become something else. My billion year journey from that star just takes another turn.
In his book, “No Death, No Fear”, Thich Nhat Hanh recounts his mothers own death and his coming to terms with it. After more than a year of mourning her he had a dream one night and realized she was with him everywhere. She is alive in him. She is alive in the trees, the grass, the clouds in the sky. Thich Nhat Hanh learned the lesson Jesus was teaching two thousand years ago. Death has no mastery over us or our loved ones as long as we keep death in the proper perspective. Thich Nhat Hanh learned that when we die it means only that the conditions for this life have changed and we will be manifested in some new way. All of those who have passed before us are here. They are in trees, the grass, and the clouds in the sky.
That is what autumn is for me. Autumn is a time of melancholy joy. We know what is in our future, but we also know we’ve done this season many times over. By looking backwards to those warmer, longer days of summer we miss out on the harvest. The time we should be reaping is spent dreaming of times we can never take back. Life in autumn is one of thankfulness. It is a time to take stock in what we have done and a time to look forward. It is a time to reap our awards and to celebrate that inevitable change that must come to all of us.