Higher Living Reflections

Leaves Turning to Brown

I had always loved the fall. Not only it was all the usual about rich colors, crisp air, and pumpkin pie, it was also when my life returned to what gave it meaning. From first grade through retirement, school and education defined it, first as a student then as a teacher. My two other major gigs were also in sync with the calendar. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, I helped manage Miracle Lanes in Monroeville, PA. I looked forward to the fall leagues starting back, including the men’s league I was part of and the junior leagues I created. After retirement, my gig at Winter Park-Mary Jane ski area fell into the same rhythm. Though the ski season usually didn’t open until mid-November, there were pre-season pass renewals and staff trainings. It was only during the year between my leaving the bowling alley and Pennsylvania and starting my teacher training program at the University of Colorado that my life wasn’t structured around the arrival of fall. That abruptly changed when I left my job at the ski area and decided to live a “normal life,” only that life—this life—isn’t my normal, and it’s thrown my psyche out of kilter.

I’ve come to dread the fall. The decreasing daylight often accompanied by gray, overcast skies that convey a sense of doom causes me to want to burrow under a blanket during the dying afternoon light, as Dylan Thomas called it in a different context. Unlike Dylan’s raging against his, I want to shut mine out, escape it by accompanying Persephone or Inanna to a dark underworld. So now the fall has become symbolic for me of death. I now call it the dying time. Leaves aren’t changing hues for our edification, they’re withering and dying. In short time they will turn to brown, as Paul Simon sings, so dry you’ll be able to crumple them in your hand.

It was on a mid-November grim-looking day when my spirits mirrored and hung low like the gray cloud-covered sky, I flipped on the TV midday to get the latest news. One news story was about the latest school shooting in Virginia. I was struct by the contrast of the scene with the account of the killings. The horrific news contrasted with what looked to be a sunny warm day with greenery abounding. It was a psychic dissonance. The scene playing out in a placid, embracing, life-affirming atmosphere. It did not compute.

It jarred me. I cannot say why or how, but I knew I had to escape if not literally like packing my bag, gassing up the Mustang, and making a beeline over Wolf Creek Pass to sun-drenched and now temperature-tolerant Arizona then figuratively through my usual Plan B fallback: escaping into a novel. I scanned my shelves and considered all the usual suspects from classics to my local favorites who have produced magnificent works. But none seemed to register. I wanted something uplifting, something without death, sadness, or violence even in context of a fantasy novel. Then I happened upon it. It wasn’t fiction but instead a work of nonfiction: the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness. If the gentle Tibetan Buddhist monk couldn’t lift my spirits from the doldrums, nothing or no one would.

I had read the book in part before but never finished it. A bookmark indicated my progress. Hmm, I thought. Why not? So I brewed a cup of chai—sans the milk and sugar—and settled into my reading spot. Before opening the book, I studied the cover. His Holiness’s countenance with its kind smile and his red and saffron robe warmed the heart. But it was the title that struck me: The Art of Happiness. Happiness as an art. I hadn’t thought of it very deeply prior to then. I had glossed over the significance of it for some lame reason, probably because my reasoning then was lame. Or maybe when I read it in part years ago, I wasn’t ready for the message. Now I was. More than ready.

To be continued…

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  • Laurel McHargue
    November 16, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    More! I want more!

  • Bruce W. Most
    November 16, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    Sorry, Jerry, but I love fall. Warm days, fall colors, cool nights that are a pleasant break from the increasingly hot summers. Yes, fall ushers in winter, but I don’t mind winter, either. A time to hunker down and write more. Days of snow and sunshine. (Since I live in Colorado, I can’t speak for those who live in the winter gloom of the northwest and northeast.) Followed by spring, where life blooms anew. I like that, too, even if it can be windy and wet. And on into summer. I’m not a fan of the worst of the heat, but I can play golf and tennis and travel. I guess I like every season I enter, for it means I’m still alive and still with friends and family.

  • Melanie Mulhall
    November 16, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    He’s an inspiring man. Another Buddhist whose work has inspired me is Thich Nhat Hanh. Check out his book True Love. Like you, my relationship with fall has changed over the years. For many years, fall was a time of beginnings for me–a carryover from my school years. The year my husband died, that changed. As I put the flower garden to bed and put the accoutrements of summer in the garden shed, I realized that by the time the garden woke up and I brought out the fair-weather things, my husband would be gone. And he was. I’m better at beginnings than endings, but as I age, it seems to me that endings are in my face more than they once were, so getting comfortable with them would be good. After all, every ending ushers in a beginning. Looking forward to the next installment.

  • Donna Taylor
    November 17, 2022 at 12:59 am

    I can relate to your your sentiments – especially as relates to late fall, when the leaves are mostly gone, darkness comes early and the coats, gloves and ear muffs come out. I miss the welcoming summertimes, walking outside into sunshine without effort. We both grew up in western Pennsylvania where gray days were the norm – I recognize what I call “Pittsburgh days” in whatever city I happen to live in. Like you, I turn to books and focus on pleasant aspects, the warmth of home after coming in from outside, cozy coffee shops and the play of light on indoor spaces. Appreciate your thoughts on this, look forward to more, thanks Jerry.