Friday, August 29, 2014

Ambivalent about Autumn

So it’s here upon us already: Labor Day Weekend. The official end of summer. Back to school, back to schedules, back to stress. Sigh.

Every year I dread the end of summer. I love sunshine, warmth, flowers, ice cream cones, iced tea, swinging in my hammock, and lying on the beach. Summertime evokes long sunny days, opportunities for adventure and travel, and relaxing with family and friends.  In “Once More to the Lake,” E.B. White lyrically expresses this longing for an endless summer:

 Summertime, oh, summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture and the sweetfern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end…

But it does end. Every year.

We all think: How did the summer go by so fast? But does anyone ever say, “Boy that was a short winter!  How did it go by so fast?”  I think that’s my problem: that sense that with summer’s end comes autumn, and then boom! Winter. 

Don’t get me wrong; I actually love much of the autumn season. What’s not to love about crisp cool weather, clear cerulean skies, and brightly colored leaves? My husband and I met and fell in love in the autumn. On one of our first dates, we went apple-picking among the stunning fall foliage of the Shenandoah Valley. Soccer games, football, bonfires, hayrides, pumpkins, hot chocolate, chrysanthemums, and October’s bright blue sky—“these are a few of my favorite things.”               

But autumn is so short! Even shorter than summer, and before we know it, winter returns.  Not the winter of Christmas and the first snow. I’m talking about the long months of winter’s brief dark days, bitter cold, and just plain dreariness; the White Witch’s Narnia when “it’s always winter and never Christmas.”  (The older I get, the more I understand the “snowbirds,” who escape the northern climes each winter and head to Florida, and the more envious I am of my sister who lives year round in Florida at the beach!).

So, that’s why I’m ambivalent about autumn. Even though I enjoy living in Virginia where we experience the full range of the seasons, I also dread the inevitable end of summer and the return of winter. Thinking about this ambivalence, causes me to reflect on God’s plan in the change of seasons.  Each brings its own delights and serves its own purposes. The Lord God promised Noah that “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:23). Just as the “heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1), so does nature visually tell the story of Christ’s death and resurrection in the passage of the seasons.

 Ironically, my moments of experiencing the “joy” or sehnsucht  which C.S. Lewis describes— that  “nostalgia”  or yearning we feel—most often occur on an achingly beautiful bright October day when the sight of scarlet and gold trees against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky pierces me with a poignant longing for something “more.”  Lewis writes most aptly in Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  If Lewis is right, and I think he is, then this longing for “something more” or for an “endless summer” is really a longing for eternity and heaven where, as Aslan declares in The Last Battle, “the term is over: the holidays have begun.”

Heaven: my endless summer.