Seasons Turn, Turn

“Spring, if it lingers more than a week beyond its span, starts to hunger for summer to end the days of perpetual promise. Summer in its turn soon begins to sweat for something to quench its heat, and the mellowest of autumns will tire of gentility at last, and ache for a quick sharp frost to kill its fruitfulness. Even winter — the hardest season, the most implacable — dreams, as February creeps on, of the flame that will presently melt it away. Everything tires with time, and starts to seek some opposition, to save it from itself.”
Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart

The seasonal changes in California are subtle but obvious, if you know where to look. Summer season is now giving way to Autumn.  The fields and hills are a washed out golden brown, parched and even drier than usual, because of the drought.  They’ve looked like this for weeks.   The Farmer’s Markets provides the first clue that time is relentless and there’s a season for everything, turn, turn.

I greet the seasons at the farmer’s market. Embrace the seasons. Mid to late spring, I’m hyped to find the first cherries and don’t care how much I have to pay for them or for lilacs..  Also, get me to the Blenheim apricots. My kitchen will soon be like a scratch ‘n’ sniff paradise as they’re made into jam.

Apricots-Cancler

Summer, sweet corn and tomatoes  keep us company at every dinner table.   I don’t anticipate much in the autumn market, but California winters bring masses of cymbidium orchids, and Pixie tangerines.tangerines

As I entered the weekly Saturday market in Santa Barbara a few days ago, I was first greeted by the delicate musky scent of multitudes of melons. The knowledgeable older woman farmer behind the stand  helps you pick the best ones, if you doubt your selection prowess. Buy several. Indulge.   You’ll be ready for more next week.  Melons are in Prime Time now, but it won’t be too long before they begin to lose their flavor and have to be passed by.

For now, there are still peaches, nectarines and pluots to savor.  Raspberries, blues and blackberries too.  Such abundance.  The fragrant ginger lilies call to me when I first sight them, “take me home.”  They arrange themselves in tall vases.ginger lillies

Oh, the mid-summer grapes are Prime Time too.  Luscious, extravagant  bundles on display that would warm the heart of any self-respecting Roman at an orgy.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.  Li-Young Lee

Strawberries are past prime time.  They’re still available, but not their best and quick to go downhill. The only people buying them now are those who don’t know better.

And you would accept the seasons of your heart just as you have always accepted that seasons pass over your fields and you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.  Kahlil Gibran 

Times they are a Changing

Our first grandchild is about to spread her wings and leave for her first semester in college.
zoe leaving
Fifty eight years ago, I did the same.  I couldn’t help but compare the excitement and anxiety she’s feeling with those I had so long ago.  The anticipation is similar. From experience, I know that life for her and her family is about to shift profoundly.
She is more ready for her academic career, than I ever was.  She’s already registered for her classes.  She has filled out forms that have determined who her most compatible roommates will be.  She has a sense of a career path. She’s spent many months visiting schools and winnowing down her choices. She was fortunate enough to get into her the college that was her first choice.  She’s worked hard and I have no doubt will continue to work hard to achieve goals that I could not even dream of.

College for Women 60 Years Ago

My college registration process was a nightmarish free for all, as I remember it, that required staring at catalogues, then going into lecture halls, staring at blackboards where the classes were listed, to see if classes that you wanted or needed were still open. If you were lucky, you could complete the process in one very long day of running all over campus.
registration
Most of my high school classmates who went on to college, went to the University of Massachusetts in nearby Amherst.  I was determined to get away.  U Mass just wouldn’t do as an escape plan.  I chose the University of Miami because I’d visited Florida on a few occasions and found it fit in perfectly with my idea of living a hedonistic life style. If I had to summarize my hedonistic philosophy it would have been something like this:  Like the beach?  Spend all your free time there, then.  Get a killer tan while you’re at it.  Date boys with convertibles.  Like clothes?  Go shopping.
hedonism
Visiting other schools was not a part of the college selection process back then. In fact, I’d never stepped foot on the University of Miami campus until I arrived as a freshman.  My parents couldn’t afford to take me to college.  They put me on a plane, one late summer morning, and said good-bye. Those were the days when my mother was able to hug me goodbye on the tarmac.  I think she had tears in her eyes.  Maybe they were tears of joy?   I boarded that DC-7 feeling euphoric, as if I was bound for paradise.
The selection of my roommate was random.  We didn’t get to know who it would be until we went into our dorm room for the first time.  We had strict curfews and dress codes, now completely erased.
I had not one idea about a career.  I was part of the unfortunate generation who joked about going to college to get an M.R.S. degree.  Finding no suitable mate on the horizon for me, my mother urged me to become an elementary school teacher.
Instead, I became a philosophy major because a cool boyfriend at that time was one, and I was enamoured with everything he did.  I held no delusions that I’d ultimately find work as a philosopher, but I liked the classes which made me THINK, and it wasn’t something everyone else, i.e. all the women were doing.
God only knows what my parents thought when they sent me off to college 1500 miles away.  But they did let go, God bless them. College was to them, if not immediately to me,  a definite dividing line between financial support and the expectation that after college, one would pay one’s own way.  Maybe that’s why my Mother often repeated this offensive advice all through college my college years,
Remember it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is to fall in love with a poor man.
I shudder to think of the response I might get, even saying that in jest, to my wise,  intelligent, and savvy granddaughter.  Thank the Lord for changing times.

the Big D

white rose

 

Final illnesses were whispered about in my childhood and death, the Big D, was rarely discussed.  And so it remained until, when in my fifties, I heard a Tibetan monk speak at a University lecture. My eyes were opened. He told our audience that monks greet  one another by saying, “Remember you’re dying.”  Wow!  That made an impact.  At first it sounded so grim, but then it sounded so daring and seize-the-dayish.  The exact opposite of the world I grew up in.

The monk’s words opened a window for me.  I started to read a bit more about death and  rather than repress it, I encouraged myself to think about Death as inevitable and natural.  As I got more deeply into The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I’d purchased at the monk’s lecture,  I quickly saw that I couldn’t easily adopt the Buddhist beliefs of reincarnation.  However, the realization did dawn on me, that like it or not, without death, life would have no meaning. I slowly began to integrate a greater acceptance of it in my life.

Now that I’m 75, the thoughts about how many years remain for me, are more frequent.  A slight medical scare might trigger a thought that this event might just be the beginning of the end. But, truth be told, it always has.  I know that by the time one is in their 70’s, death is not considered premature.  When I talk about the big D with others, I am usually quickly reassured that I have many more healthy years to go. I sense a distinct distaste for a serious conversation, although the infirmities of age are joked about a lot.   The reassurances are well intentioned, but hollow. The truth is, most of us just don’t know the amount of time remaining to us and all we do is just hope for the best.

How does one prepare for a life that could become in all likelihood increasingly infirm? Can one prepare or should one prepare?  Even in a partnership like marriage, one of the partners will always go through end of life without the other.  Romance can take you just so far.

Recently, a dear friend of mine died after a long illness.  I’d lost touch with him over the years. I always found a reason not to visit with him during his illness. “Next week,” I’d tell myself.  It turned out that next week did not arrive for him.  From my sadness and frustration with myself for not visiting, I have made a vow that I will never overlook such a visit again.  Another lesson learned.

This friend lived with intention and lived a full life even if he did die at a younger age than hoped for.  His life was celebrated at his funeral service.  Those who did have the courage to visit him in his last weeks spoke of a man not afraid to die and still present for his friends.   He and the other mourners  were convinced that his soul would live on.  I can give lip service to that hope, but in truth, I have no idea of what that means or if it really means anything.

I recognize that acknowledging the projected shortness of a  life span  has made me more conscious of how I want to spend my time.

On my last birthday I was ninety-three years old. That is not young, of course. In fact, it is older than ninety. But age is a relative matter. If you continue to work and to absorb the beauty in the world about you, you find that age does not necessarily mean getting old. At least, not in the ordinary sense. I feel many things more intensely than ever before, and for me life grows more fascinating.  Pablo Casals.

I remember being uncomfortable when my mother, in her 70’s,  wanted to give some of her treasured belongings to me.  I didn’t want to think of a time when she wouldn’t be there.  But I know now, that she was just preparing herself to let go and I regret not being more willing to enter into that conversation with her.  I’ve also learned that timing is everything in life.  If you’re not ready, you’re not ready.

I’ve said for a long time that I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret that there were things I wanted to do, but held myself back from doing out of fear.  That’s proven a good motto.

As our necks become unrecognizable and our knees sag, and new brown spots appear with startling  regularity, we learn that physical change (not of an adolescent nature) now, is a constant. Kindness and patience towards self is an essential requirement of aging.  It’s too easy and self-destructive to be self-deprecating.

Elders are survivors.If we can, we might find a way to redefine living a relatively healthy, purposeful and satisfying older age.

It’s foolish to worship youth, they have an entirely different set of circumstances to grapple with. I wouldn’t go backwards for anything.   Age can be liberating.  You’ve developed a deeper understanding  of pettiness, foolishness  and vanity and begin to focus on the essentials.  I’ve begun meditation to develop the ability to quiet my monkey mind.

Let’s get to the essence of what’s meaningful and not a useless distraction.  I’m at a point in my life where I appreciate, more than ever, the wonders of nature, the joys of friendship and family, the stimulation and beauty of the arts and the pleasures that life still offers, if you’re lucky and pay attention.

 

Let us cherish and love old age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it. Fruits are most welcome when almost over; youth is most charming at its close; the last drink delights the toper, the glass which souses him and puts the finishing touch on his drunkenness. Each pleasure reserves to the end the greatest delights which it contains. Life is most delightful when it is on the downward slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline.”
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic