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Autumn and Existential Anxiety

(Phil Britton, Creative Commons)
(Phil Britton, Creative Commons)

 

My absolute least favorite time of year is the transition from summer to fall.  There’s always been a melancholy associated with it, the ending of summer, returning to school, growing up.  Seeing summer friends less often.  Underneath it all lies a current of knowing everything has an end to it.

I used to whitewash that undercurrent with faith, with an “it’s all good” theology.  There was an answer to every problem, and every season change was a move to a better one.  I’m not saying this as a broad critique, just how I built my own systems that glossed over pain (I’m a 7 on the Enneagram, surprise surprise).

When everything deconstructed, I was quickly brought into brutal confrontation with my own finitude.  The safety net for my anxiety was gone.

Endless summer days have a way of lying to you, telling you that things will be this way forever.  But when that first gray breeze hits you, and you suddenly notice a few fallen leaves, the transitory nature of life comes into sharp focus.

So what do you do with that?

I decided to sit with it.  I leaned into the wisdom of teachings I’d avoided, pushing past my usual aversion to melancholy.  When I did, I finally started to see what they were getting at.  That transience of the present moment is what makes it a gift.  It’s what makes life special and precious.

Holy.

I’ll leave you with a poem and a song.  The poem is one that my spiritual director and good friend Terry introduced me to a couple years ago.  I hated it when I first read it, but when I dug it out again this fall it really spoke to me.  I’m not sure who the author is.

Falling Leaves

O falling leaves of autumn
what mysteries of death
you proclaim
to my unwilling self

what eternal truths
you disturb
in the webbings
of my heart

what wildness
you evoke
in the gusty dance
of emptying winds

what mellow tenderness
you bravely breathe
in your required surrender

what challenge
you engender
through your painful twists
and turnings

what howl of homelessness
you shriek
with your exile of departure

what daring task
you evoke
as you feed the hungry soil

O falling leaves of autumn
with each stem
that breaks
with each layer of perishing

you teach me what is required
if I am to grow before I die.

 

This song (and album, honestly) helped a lot to shift my perspective on the temporary nature of things.  Lyrics are here.

If you want to go further, check out the work of Peter Rollins, maybe starting here.

Peace and Tenacity,

PB