It’s blindingly beautiful outside right now. The birch and cottonwood trees are turning yellow; the fireweed stalks are dark pink. The sky is a brilliant blue. Grasses are the deep green of late summer and the water on the bay is calm, punctuated only by the trail of a skiff or a raft of sea birds.
It’s almost too nice out there, which sounds strange, but it’s making me feel melancholy. It’s sort of taunting me, reminding me that these nice days are numbered and soon enough it will be winter. And winter is long, and cold, and dark. Soon I’ll have only reminders of summer, like the food the season has provided preserved in the freezer and pantry to be parceled out over the next several months, and the memory of the smell of dirt in the garden and the feel of sun on my skin.
I’m not ready to let go of summer. It was too short and I didn’t do nearly as much as I’d hoped to. Yet I know that once winter gets here I’ll be fine. It’s just the transition that seems to be difficult. We’re losing close to five minutes of daylight each day right now, and so this change of seasons doesn’t feel as though it’s sneaking up on me, it feels more like it’s jumping out from behind a wall and hitting me over the head.
Recently I’ve been reminded that really life is all about the transitions, and how you get through them seems to say more about the kind of person you are than just about anything else.
My grandparents had been married for seventy-three years and still lived together in their own house when my grandmother died unexpectedly early one morning last month. That August day would mark the beginning of a different life for my granddad. Not only had he lost his wife, but he could no longer stay in his own home.
Already his short-term memory was failing him and the shock of all the rapid changes seemed to amplify his disorientation. Sometimes he seemed very lucid and could remember that his wife had died, other times people had to remind him of what was happening. A few days after my grandmother’s memorial service he admitted to my mom, “For all of my life I’ve always known what to do next, and now I don’t know what to do.” My mom reassured him that she would be there for him and said, “We’ll just take it one day at a time.”
He thought about it for a moment and then started to sing,
“One day at a time sweet Jesus
That’s all I’m asking from you.
Just give me the strength
To do everyday what I have to do.
Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine.
Lord help me today, show me the way
One day at a time. “
Then he sang it through a second time in Spanish.
Seasons change, grandparents die and relationships you thought would last sometimes don’t. Children grow independent, parents grow dependent and our best-made plans sometimes get derailed. The transitions can break our hearts or fill us with more joy than we ever thought imaginable. All any of us can really do is try to embrace the changes with a touch of grace and carry around a song or two that will help us get through the hard times.