Autumn, used by poets and writers to symbolize transitions, beginnings and endings, is both a sad and happy time.
I had the blessing of spending a spectacular week in New England a few days after my birthday, and saw for myself the majesty and brilliance of a New England fall.
There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. It brought home to me the reality that everything in this world is impermanent, and how we must learn to value the gift of each moment, and each day.
This weekend, during which we remember with love and thanksgiving all those who have gone before us, my thoughts turned to my grandparents’ love story.
My grandmother and grandfather met each other on a ship while crossing the sea in the late 1920s. She had come from Basilan, Zamboanga, on her way to visit family in Manila. He was returning to Batangas after months of doing field work in Davao as one
of the first graduates of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Los Baños.
She spoke only Spanish and Chabacano. He was fluent in English, Tagalog and Spanish. And that’s how they communicated. He wrote her long letters in Spanish, every day, after they parted.
He followed her to Zamboanga, asked for her hand in marriage and moved her to Davao at the start of the ’30s. By the time war broke out, they had six children ranging in ages from one to 12 years old.
On Christmas Eve, the Kempetai came to their house and asked her husband (a guerilla) to surrender his firearms, otherwise they would kill his entire family.
A few days later, on December 28, before he set out with his brother and cousins to surrender their firearms, his wife gave him his wedding ring and said, “Wear this so that if ever anything happens to you, they will return it to me and I will know that you are gone.”
And so he left his wife and family that day, never to return again.
Months later, while at the market by the seashore, she noticed a familiar ring on the hand of the fish vendor. She asked to see the ring, and initially the vendor refused to show it to her, but she threatened to cause a scene if he did not. And so he relented.
She held the ring up to the sunlight. It was his ring. And in that moment, her heart sank. She knew it was his way of letting her know that the Japanese had killed him and that he would never return.
Forty-five years later, to the date that she found her husband’s ring, she, too, passed on.
My grandparents’ story always reminds me of how all partings must be handled with love and great care because life is so uncertain. And that love, when it is true, in life or in death, will always find its way back to you.
Lessons on impermanence
New England at the height of autumn, when the foliage is at its peak, will really take your breath away.
One of the most magical moments for me during that weekend happened as I was sitting in the wee hours of the morning. It was chilly and dawn had just come, and everything was very quiet. A gentle breeze blew and right before my eyes, tiny yellow and red leaves began to fall so gently.
Watching the leaves flutter to the ground, I was reminded of how nature’s cycles are mirrored in our lives. How many harsh winters had I gone through in the last 50 years of my life and yet, how many warm and beautiful summers, as well?
This year I had the opportunity to experience a glorious spring in New York and Washington, where I caught a glimpse of cherry blossoms newly sprung.
It was invigorating, and truly a period in my life when I felt all things were possible. Fast forward to six months later, it was an absolutely spectacular fall that greeted me in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote, “Autumn is a time for letting go and releasing things that have been a burden. All the religious traditions pay tribute to such acts of relinquishment. Fall is the right time to practice getting out of the way and letting Spirit take charge of our lives.”
To experience all of this in what is perhaps the autumn of my life, as I turned 50, was pure grace.
Autumn always reminds us of the impermanence of everything. Once again the Brussats wrote, “The poet Wallace Stevens once wrote, ‘Death is the mother of beauty.’ What those words say to me is that we cherish the beauty of a sunrise, of a New England autumn, of a relationship, of a child’s hug, precisely because those things will not be around forever and neither will we be around to enjoy them.”
Fall, more than any other season, brings home to our consciousness death and the challenge to live every day to the fullest.
Just this morning, I greeted a dear friend happy birthday and was surprised by his reaction. “Birthdays stress me out,” he said. I wondered quietly to myself if perhaps he did not have positive experiences of birthdays as a child, or maybe he just dreaded growing old.
For someone like me who has lost too many loved ones before their prime, birthdays have always been a big thing. “Not everyone is given the gift of another year, or the privilege of growing old,” I told my friend.
Just as we celebrate and give thanks for all the seasons of our lives—the winters that teach us to remain still, the springs that bring hope, and the heady summers that bring us joy—fall for me is the most glorious and beautiful season of all because it keeps us grounded and teaches us to be present in every moment that we are given, so that after the moment passes, we will not have any regret.
I am grateful to have hit the half-century mark. I have outlived my father, who died at 49. “To 50nity and beyond!” I look forward to this decade—a second spring in the autumn of my life.