What Fall Teaches Us About Time
“There must be a mistake with my clock. It can’t be morning! Why is it so dark outside? Oh ya, it’s fall. “
The sky is thickened with grey, creating an eerie dusk even during the middle of the day. It is the longest evening. It is the last part of the year’s day before we enter the sleep of winter.
Some days the rain paints the windows and shines the streets, other days the clouds just hang low. Their deep blue being the perfect backdrop to make the leaves glow like fire in front of them. They speckle the sky and as they move with that new wind the sun turns on and off, shifting like the mood.
We can smell the difference in the air, feel that the wind tickling our nose is from some far off place. It is the winds of change, and it is this wind that will tease each leaf off her branch. “Come, now, it is time.”
I wonder what it feels like for the leaf. Can she tell that she is changing colour? Does she put out her hands to stop the cold wind that works against her. Does she envy the evergreens? Does she know her time is almost up?
Our cold wind of time is bit by bit doing its work on us. Sometimes we are picked off the branch green, and other times we hang on past the first snow. Slowly our hair changes colour, our skin wrinkles up and becomes fragile. We are so much like the leaves! And just like the leaves, some of us will go through fall. We will face the loss of the green youth that we had gotten used to. And we will have to see a reflection of ourselves that shows a small, grey, crumpled shape.
I wonder if the old evergreen leaves whisper the news to young leaves in the summer (the same way that we are “warned” about aging). Do they offer them preventative creams or plastic sacks to prevent themselves from summer sun so that they might be green the longest?
And here is the truth you don’t want me to say: eventually the tree of our generation will stand bare, with our fallen bodies crowded around the base.
Do you know what happens to fallen leaves?
The rain and the snow soak their bodies, loosening the edges and creating a perfect warm, moist place for the “Ultimate Recyclers” (bacteria, and fungus) to come in. The fallen leaves are transformed into food, and eventually become the very soil that once fed them. These old leaves are sucked up by the tree as nutrients and travel out to the far reaches to see the view once more from the branches where they had lived.
It is true that the conservation of energy means that we can never truly “go away”, but it is also true that even in our death we will be a part of life.
Maybe you think that we will live another life after we die, (on earth or some place else) or maybe that we will just sit in the ground. Either way the rain and the snow and the “Ultimate Recyclers” will make sure that the atoms we have named ourselves will get to feel the wind once more.
So what does this mean about how we live?
Well, firstly you can take the YOLO saying and shove it right up your hashtag.
To “live like you were dying” (as one country song suggests) is stressful! But more importantly, being constantly reminded that you are about to die is extremely impractical. We need to be able to have adjusting perspectives on time and life in order to make the many decisions that take up our days. For example, using your imminent death (which could be 80 years or more away) as a valid component of your decision to buy a drink or not could be called a misuse of perspective or an impractical scale.
Do you really want to make every decision off of the idea that you only live once? Does that not freak you out?! There is so much pressure in that statement!
The truth is, many of us live in a constant feeling that time is running out. It may be anything from the nagging feeling that I currently have that time is running out for me to read my textbook tonight. It may be the fear that if I don’t use my not-yet-too-wrinkled-face to get a husband and have a kid before my not-yet-too-expired-body can, then the door will close on a supposed world of happiness before I can squeeze through. Or it may even be the feeling that time is running out before we can go out and do something to fix this world and prevent our destruction (through global warming, disease, zombies, materialism, religion, ancient prophecy, aliens, or anything else).
It is clear to me that there is a growing sense of despair and hopelessness. One of the first messages that I remember hearing as a kid was that I had to shut the lights off because I was killing polar bears (or something like that).
But here’s the trick. Time actually is running out. I do think we need to address global warming (etc) before it is too late. I do need to get my butt out the door at some point in the next couple decades to talk to various males and I will stop writing this post before it is too late to do my homework.
And yet, there is one clear distinction we must make. Instead of repeating “Yolo” to ourselves, we should try the mantra of “It’s okay” or “This too shall pass” or “Life goes on”. Pick anything that makes you feel connected to all of everything through the simple facts of conservation of energy, or rotting (Yup, that’s what we get to do!).
Live like you are living. And then die like you are dying. But when you are doing either of them just know that it is okay, and life continues on in some way. The day just switches around the earth.
Even as I tell you this, time sits on my wrist and stares up at me. The face shiny and hard, daring me to challenge it. “I am finite, you can only act within my bounds,” it says saucily. I would love to argue back, but time is bound to my arm; like a handcuff, time locks me in place. This makes me think that there exists a land of freedom, just beyond time, a place where I could do all that I want. “I would write more, visit more, paint more, dance more, study more and sleep more if only I had time!”
So I am going to take off my watch.
And I will marvel at the cold wind and the way it can fold my eyes up like a stack of towels in the cupboard. I will sit in a pile of leaves and stare up at the sky on those days when the sun comes out and have my breath taken away by the glow that those thin dying yellow leaves have when the sun is behind them.
I will crunch through the dead leaves and smile at them, wishing them luck on their next adventure. I will rest knowing that the aging and decomposition of my body doesn’t have to be done by me; I will be grateful that I don’t have to concentrate to turn each hair grey. And instead I will focus on doing one thing at a time. On having the perspective that helps me feel most comfortable in each task, and repeat to myself that it’s all going to be okay.
Once we stop spending time worrying about time, then we will have more time.
If we could wake up each day delighted by the new colours and spots that we have, then we could stop trying to hold on tight to our branch, and oh what we would find! We could take off our plastic bags and uncover our eyes to see the view! From way up here I can watch a crazy squirrel perched on the edge of the branch at the limit of its reach just to grab that seed. I can see the way the trees stack on top of each other in my view, overlapping to make a lacy silhouette against the sky, and I can see the way your mouth twists when you think.
Time is always going. But that doesn’t mean it is running out-we are the ones that are running. Hoarding minutes won’t change the experience of each of those minutes, only experiencing them can do that.
“Your dream doesn’t have an expiration date. Take a deep breath and start again.”