My daughter has started doing divisions at school. Recently, on our walk back home through a very autumnal park with fallen leaves everywhere, we talked about the seasons, and how many parts of a whole each of them are individually.
»You know, humans go through seasons in their lives, too. If you assumed someone would be 80 before they died, how long would every season of their life be?«
»20 years?« She does a quick calculation in her head. »Which means I’m still in spring!«
»Pretty much so. And where am I?«
She does the numbers again. »Autumn.«
That season when nature moves from growth and abundance to going more inward and protecting its very essence. When the outer signs and displays of renewal and fertility begin to whither away…
It would be straightforward to feel a bit uneasy about that transition. And at times, I do. I look in the mirror and see those signs: The facial features that change. The body that transitions. The change of colours (more and more greys 😂). The daily physical pain that’s been around for quite a few years, but that I rarely talk about.
A body that slowly but surely prepares for winter. Nothing can change that, no matter how much we wish for it. No matter how much the performing arts glorify youth. No matter how sexist, misogynistic and deeply rooted in patriarchy that is. No matter how much we might lament the visible transition, or even try to stop it outwardly. We can’t. The body will do its thing, just like nature does.
It’s not a binary one of two things: Embrace it or try to escape it. It’s both, and everything in between. There are days when I wonder where time went, and what the flip happened.
However, there are as many days when I can see and appreciate the beauty of autumn. The change of colours, the giving back to where I once was and came from. But also the turning inward, the concentrating on what really matters, the getting better at preserving energy instead of incessantly expending it, the shedding of what no longer serves me. And there is goodness and beauty in that. A sense of gratitude for not having to put on the often loud display of spring and summer that’s all about, you know, proving that you have something going for you. That you’re eligible, that you are good material for the survival of the species, whatever that means to us individually (because it can be interpreted in many ways that go far beyond reproduction)…
At the end of the day, mortality stares us in the face once we move from summer to autumn. But isn’t that strange — it’s always been there, not just when we transition into midlife and beyond. Just like the heatwave in summer that destroys life, or the floods, or the unexpected touch of frost in spring that ends what has just begun. If I were to share the fate of the last two generations of women in my family, none of whom lived much past 60 (or didn’t even reach it), I would not even be in autumn. I would have reached the winter of my life by now.
Everything is in flux.
And maybe that’s what’s truly important. Appreciating the beauty of movement, of ebb and flow, of impermanence. The fleeting moments, no matter how much we want to hold on to them — we have to let them go, just like the tree lets go of its leaves.
However, maybe we sometimes wish time stood still, if just for a moment. Time, that arbitrary human concept that is more about perception than anything else. And yet, it’s visible, graspable, and inescapable.
I recently watched Midnight Mass (»What a strange change of subject«, you might think, but bear with me). I was apprehensive about it because I usually don’t like horror movies/series, but this one surprised me because it had many very deeply philosophical moments I didn’t expect (NB: I am not religious in any shape or form, maybe what most people would call an agnostic atheist. I can see why religious people might not like it, or might even find it offensive).
There is a beautiful moment when Erin talks about dying I’d like to share with you (you might not want to read on if you feel it would be a spoiler). I found it especially poignant because I can clearly recall watching an app-based explanation of the Big Bang with my daughter, and at the end, you could take this photo:
“I remember that every atom in my body was forged in a star.”
»So what do you think happens, when we die?«
»Speaking for myself?«
»Speaking for yourself.«
»Myself. My self. That’s the problem. That’s the whole problem with the whole thing. That word, self. That’s not the word. That’s not right, that isn’t…
How did I forget that? When did I forget that?
The body stops a cell at a time, but the brain keeps firing those neurons. Little lightning bolts, like fireworks inside, and I thought I’d despair or feel afraid, but I don’t feel any of that. None of it. Because I’m too busy. I’m too busy in the moment, remembering.
I remember that every atom in my body was forged in a star. This matter, this body is mostly empty space after all, and solid matter. It’s just energy vibrating very slowly while there is no me. There never was. The electrons of my body mingle and dance with the electrons of the ground below me and the air I’m no longer breathing. And I remember there is no point where any of that ends and I begin.
I remember I am energy. Not memory. Not self. My name, my personality, my choices, all came after me. I was before them and I will be after, and everything else is pictures, picked up along the way. Fleeting little dreamlets printed on the tissue of my dying brain. And I am the lightning that jumps between. I am the energy firing the neurons, and I’m returning. Just by remembering, I’m returning home. And it’s like a drop of water falling back into the ocean, of which it’s always been a part.
All things… a part. You, me and my little girl, and my mother and my father, everyone who’s ever been, every plant, every animal, every atom, every star, every galaxy, all of it. More galaxies in the universe than grains of sand on the beach. And that’s what we’re talking about when we say ‘God’. The cosmos and its infinite dreams. We are the cosmos dreaming of itself. It’s simply a dream that I think is my life, every time. But I’ll forget this. I always do. I always forget my dreams. But now, in this split-second, in the moment I remember, the instant I remember, I comprehend everything at once. There is no time. There is no death. Life is a dream. It’s a wish. Made again and again and again and again and again and again and on into eternity. And I am all of it. I am everything. I am all. I am that I am.«
Whether you are comfortable with this perspective or not, it is hard not to acknowledge some simple truths behind it. During every season of our lives, but especially during autumn and winter. Maybe it’s just not the truth we want to hear when we are focused on the self. We all are to a degree, and I think that’s also natural. We seek meaning. But isn’t that meaning there by default?
Maybe, just maybe, if we remembered the complicated simplicity behind it all, we would feel more at home. Within ourselves, but also in the world, and with each other. Alas, “Life is a dream. It’s a wish.” …