“Love and death are the great gifts that are given to us. Mostly they are passed on unopened.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve always appreciated late summer. It feels a full and immense time of year. The sky starts to seem higher, clearer, and on these fortunate years when we have mild weather, the nights are crisp. Soon will come the change, when summer crops drop off, and the Fall greens really pick up speed. But for now, we are still harvesting multitudes of colorful orbs – tomatoes, watermelons, apples, pears, tiny purple elderberries and swelling winter squash. Everything sparkles, blazes with life.
The flowers are bright yellow and purple. Ironweed, Goldenrod, and Joe Pye, much loved by the swallowtail butterflies. So many creek bottoms stand thick in yellow flowers, all rank and tall and full of buzzing life. “Cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your head.” Regardless of any other context, the Beatles lyrics always seem to fit just right in late August, early September.
Nine years ago, I added context to my love of the season by getting married. Our wedding, set on the backwaters of the Cumberland River in early September, was clear and bright, just like the days we have now.
I cue into those memories when I see goldenrod and ironweed and the dark bright glow of little marigolds. There’s an extra sweetness there for me now, and I know it will remain.
This year, I add another texture to the map of my seasonal memory. It’s a sadness this time. I know I will always associate Susan’s passage from this life with the last big flush of tomatoes, the dropping apples and drooping of the ripe elderberry bushes.
It’s hard, but it’s ok.
I wouldn’t want out of either of those feelings.
It’s part of the work of living, and I won’t shirk the task before me.
Reflecting on the passage of time, and life, I sense that there is a precedence to my ability to stay with these feelings, whether they are sweet or sad.
So many years ago, when my folks moved here to Tennessee, I was just a tiny baby. They were full of dreams and visions of a simple life in the country. As is often the case, dreams change with reality, and their reality changed in ways they could not have known.
Their separation, and re-marriage with my step-mother and step-father, all happened before I can remember. It seemed as if I had always had four parents; but it wasn’t the same for them. They had to rearrange their dreams, their visions. They had to work at it.
They made some agreements about how to conduct themselves in relation to me, and they held fast to those agreements. I was never heir to any hostilities, doubts, angers, fears that they may have held around each other. They did such a good job at this that it was a good many years before I figured out that not every kid had four parents and visited other houses on weekends. Looking back, I’m sure it was difficult, and I deeply respect their efforts.
It worked, and not just in my little life. I think that their efforts also compelled them to look for and find the best in each other, time and again, over the years. It’s not easy to find good things to say about a person who has hurt your feelings. It can be so hard to continue to share time with someone who has broken your heart. It would be easier to avoid that pain, hide, go away. But in the long run, from what I see here all around me, it’s worth it.
I think this is part of why I know to hold my heart open to the grief now. It just shares space with the love. Christine Longaker writes that “the pain that stays with us is the love we held back.” There is nothing lost, and there’s still room for more. My heart will thrill and ache at once, taking in the marigolds and butterflies, and I look forward to seeing what else the season has to tell, year after year.