It’s the end of pretty autumn and the beginning of dead fall. Halloween which is all about dressing up as the thing you either most desire or most fear, and eating candy until you’re sick. Samhein about acknowledging the death of the growing season with the last of the harvest in and the gifts (probably prophetic) of the ancestors. Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a great time for a picnic with the relatives both living and passed. A chance to catch up on the news of the year on both sides of the veil. All Saints Day, assuming of course that the Saints are also dead and that they have only positive things to offer.
I find myself starting to plan the annual holiday schedule. What day is Thanksgiving dinner and who’s going to show up? If I plan to spend the night do I get the bedroom or a couch or the floor? Any rum cakes that have been started and will need regular tending. I’ve received the list of ‘gifts I would like’ from my daughter, “just in case anyone asks.” The calendar is filling up already into January.
We lost another member of the family this year. It makes the ancestor part of the holiday a bit bittersweet. I do find myself reminiscing in the season. I no longer have my Grandparents, a niece and a nephew and a handful of very close friends, some of whom have been gone over 30 years. The pets that have come through our lives over the years also check in to my memory around this time.
But life also goes on. My daughter and her boyfriend are negotiating the family holiday exchange for the first time this year. It’s likely that the timing will work in their favor since they both come from families accustomed to making accommodations. But I’m not sure they both will get the time off work they will need to hit everyone’s celebrations. Like the season demonstrates, part of life is learning about giving things up.
So I do a final weeding and bury the ancestor garden under a pile of leaves. I’ll need to decide what to add next year to honor this years passed. I’ll light a candle or two in memory and sit in meditation. Hopefully I’ll get a pat on the shoulder or even a warm embrace by the ghost of one of my loved ones.
For me this is not the holiday of one day. I don’t enjoy a dumb supper sitting in silence while the dead are invited to feast. I am not a vigilant keeper of shrines to my ancestors, so I am not called to tidy them up for the holiday visit. Instead I take long walks in the dry leaves kicking up ghosts and smiles. I talk to the wind, light a fire, pull out a hand made blanket.
I am grateful to the spirits of ancestors past. Those who love me beyond all reason and continue to support me in my life. I am grateful for the lessons you have taught me in your life and in your passing. I am grateful for the love that I continue to carry in my heart.
I am grateful also to my descendants. I hope to also be remembered in love and gratitude. I hope that I have made a mark on one or two lives that made a real difference. I am grateful for the opportunity to pass on the few things I have learned so far in this life.
We are approaching the time of the autumnal equinox, a point of balance between the light and dark. The story of the grasshopper and the ant is set at this time of year. It is also the time of sorting the wheat from the chaff. So the point of balance also becomes a point of choosing.
When we think of balance , it’s comforting to think about stability. The balanced rock has been there for hundreds of years. Balance in design is demonstrated by the stability of a house of cards. Even in the face of change, balance is demonstrated by the buildings that still stay standing through the earthquake or hurricane winds.
Trying to balance a life feels a little more like juggling fire on a high wire. We are in motion, buffeted about by forces we can’t control or predict, and trying to keep several balls in the air at once. Living the still life of a meditative monk is not the goal most of us shoot for when we seek balance in our lives.
Often the balance in life also comes down to the point of choosing. Which ball do you choose to drop to maintain your balance? Do you stay on the wire or take a different path? Does moving faster make it easier to keep going? Are you the grasshopper this year or the ant?
Although no one in my household is currently tied to the school year calendar, I have definitely been enculturated. This is where the fun choices come in. I have a tendency to set up new projects to start at this time of year. This year I’ve even been inspired to take an adult education class. I’m also preparing a presentation at the Women and Spirituality Conference. I even got some business cards printed.
Starting new things and getting summer things put away in anticipation of winter challenges my balance. I have found myself less and less able to do the heavy lifting that goes with summer clean up. I have had to learn to let go when I don’t have the space or strength to get all the yard furniture put away in the garage before the snow. The plants haven’t been well weeded and aren’t getting covered when there are frost warnings. My priority is making enough room in the garage for the car.
This year, a big part of maintaining balance for me has been about learning to give myself credit for the things I do manage to accomplish. It’s easy for me to become overwhelmed with everything I don’t get done. Especially when I “should” myself about them. I come into better balance when I acknowledge the accomplishments with at least as much enthusiasm as I morn the shortcomings.
I’m big on efficiency. I like to find ways to do as much as I can with as little effort as possible. It’s another thing I like about balance. It’s precarious. It only takes a little push to send everything moving in a new direction. When the timing and direction are right, great changes can happen with the touch of a suggestion.
It seems to me that people need some kind of celebration to ‘touch base’ with the passing seasons and years. It may be Christmas or Ramadan or Passover or birthdays or the start of the school year, but we each have marker points. I see these as opportunities to connect with something larger than ourselves. Whether that connection is religiously defined or simply acknowledging the cycle of life and the passage of time the human psyche seems to need those moments.
For me, making a connection with the Divine at these marker points is often about taking stock of where I am at this moment. Of course there is the ‘Where am I in my life?’ question, but I mean that in a more visceral sense as well. What is the weather like? How am I feeling? Sort of a where am I in relationship with the planet, or at least my little corner ofit?
That’s where I get to corn on the cob. About 20 years ago I recognized that my summers rushed passed so fast I seemed to miss them. I didn’t have the “summer break” advantage of time slowing down (and speeding up) and vacations with little kids were fun, but not vacations at all. So I decided that I would only eat local corn.
For all the bad rap that corn and corn syrup have taken in the past few years there is nothing like eating fresh corn on the cob. I live in Minnesota, so the local season is short and very specifically the corn comes in at the height of summer. When I really think about the difference in taste between local fresh corn on the cob and any other corn that might be available to me throughout the year it’s not a huge sacrifice.
This small decision makes such a big difference to me in terms of awareness. I have a greater sense of what’s happening in my local farming communities. I look at summer weather not just for my convenience but in terms of the crops. I recognize that summer must be here when corn starts showing up in the supermarkets, but local corn truly marks the middle of the season. The anticipation and awareness just make the corn even tastier when I do get it.
I will admit to having gone on a month long corn on the cob binge once or twice over the past 20 years. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that I can appreciate the bounty of the local harvest without going overboard. Ultimately that is what this marker point brings to my attention. An appreciation and a gratitude for the bounty of the harvest close to home.
So this week I am grateful for corn on the cob. I know the extreme heat and rain that we’ve had this season has affected the crop. The ears are smaller than they’ve been in years in the past and not quite as sweet and juicy. There is still nothing like fresh corn and I’m looking forward to a few more meals of it before the season ends.