I think my mind will always, at the autumn time of year, drift to an old Jesuit.
The letting go of fall,
The relinquishment of harvesting
The giving of gratitude’s
The anticipation of winter
All call back the image of that old man
Running around the lawn
Collecting leaves in his hands
Weeping and kissing the trees.
That is how I remember the story. He is now dead, so I cannot confirm it.
Yet even if he were alive to tell the tale he wouldn’t be able to inform
me whether the story were true or false.
You see, he had lost his memory almost totally, so he wouldn’t have been able to remember what had happened the previous fall.
He wouldn’t have been able to remember that there had been a spring.
The man lived totally in the present. In the presence.
Not by gift of mysticism, but by erosion of the body. And so when the leaves started falling each fall, it was the end of the world for him.
The trees were dying.
The earth was ending.
No wonder it was an occasion for such tender handling of the leaves and embracing of the earth.
Having lost his memory, he had won that sweet and painfully overwhelming sense of the present.
To savor, to relish, to give thanks.
How easy to lose the simple present.
We replay the past, rehearse the future as some kind of conscious armor against the terribly fleeting present.
We hope not to feel the hurt of impermanence as much, but we’ve unfortunately traded off our childlike and ancient sensitivity for the eternal now.
We suffer the delusion that if we hold ourselves back from caring too much, we will never feel the damage of the loved one now lost.
We pass. We are passing away. And this dear earth passes.
But there is now.
To kiss the falling leaves.
To embrace the trees.
The point is not to fear the regret of having meant so much to someone that absence might bring pain.
The point is not to protect ourselves from loving this present earth, this present face, but to let our hearts be indeed broken
By each earthly departure,
By all dear separations,
By every aching distance.
For it is a breaking open, a wound, a poorness of love that fills us with Love’s very self.
As C.S. Lewis sang:
For this I bless you as the rain falls.
The pains you give me
Are more precious
Than all other gains.
–Fall, by John Kavanaugh, SJ
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The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.
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