It is the very first sign of autumn. Nature tipped in gold. The earth awash in this regal hue, the light cascading in ancient godly shafts. Everything is aglow.
September is a midpoint between the extremes of summer and winter. It is a quiet time, soft and reflective, inviting the presence of God.
Our lives need these times. Interludes, pauses, rest before the harvest. We need time that is simpler, slower, and more serene. Time to catch our breath, reclaim our hope and take a leap of faith.
This golden time bears a message which reveals a truth. It reminds us of Life’s brevity. Indeed, summer always goes by so fast. Summer days appear deceptively lazy, when in fact they sprint the whole season to the finish.
September, with its cool clean air and crisp nights, forecasts Winter’s eventual march to victory. Soon the gold will be swept away, the earth will wince and grow barren. The drifting snow will hide the merry play of Spring beneath the ground.
Our lives are so often caught at these midpoints. They can be paralyzing or invigorating, inviting or with a sense of rejection. There are so many days in the year which never declare themselves as part of a season. These are days in which we are called by God to savor, pay attention and notice all the goodness which is ours.
September. Thirty days of gold, like a sunflower or a wedding band. These days offer time to reflect back and to look forward, to both prepare and let go, to recognize that life requires us to say hello and good-bye all the time, every day.
It is within contradiction where Life finds its magic and becomes the miracle we witness. It is the paradox alone which can carry the great burden of Life. The fact that we are living and dying at the very same time. How strange, yet divine.
And so it is with September. We want to go back to the childlike joys of the first days of summer, to float on our backs in in the pool, take naps in a hammock, drink ice cold lemonade. But we know we must move forward to Winter, with days which will be brutal and cold, or beautifully white and fluffy. Days which hold the blessings of heart and home, ablaze with wondrous memories.
The transition from summer to autumn is like a walk on a high wire. We look back and wish we had never left the safety of the platform. We balance ourselves with a beam of light and faith. We look across the wire to other side. We move, ever so carefully and gingerly, our fear in check, gaining confidence in each step, sensing the joy which awaits us on the other side.
While each platform is the same height, the wire between dips ever so slightly, lower in the middle, so when arriving on the other side, we are certain we’re on higher ground. Once again, September tells the eternal tale of our walk to heaven.
Racine, Wisconsin – The summer of 1964. I’m at a party in North Bay, where the wealthy families lived. We just had a cookout with Usinger bratwurst… I was more the Oscar Mayer type. We also swam in the lake, off a rocky beach, without buoys or lifeguards. My mother would have been so angry and unapproving had she known.
Jay & John, the handsome twin hosts of the party, decided we should all walk to Douglas Park to end the party. It had an enormous slide and gigantic swings, plus three lengthy teeter-totters and a large merry-go-round. I’m not sure if today’s teen would find this a worthy finale for the end to summer, but for us, in 1964, it worked.
We all walked there. The night itself was soft and sweet and very mellow. The breezes carried the slightest hint of autumn. The air was still lush with the smell of summer flowers, and the sky sprinkled with salty stars. The moon was blue and romantic and nearly full.
The night held absolutely no fear. Though it was well past ten, we strolled down Main Street, then some side streets before getting to Douglas Park. We were twenty plus laughing, shouting, flirting, fidgeting teenagers who would be returning to Horlick High School in two days. We were a mix of cocky, arrogant, sweet, good, naïve and loud adolescents who believed they had the world on a string.
Once at Douglas Park, we devoured the playground equipment with a child-like vengeance. We climbed and whooped our way down the slide. The merry-go-round was being spun furiously by boys looking to show off their strength, hoping to get someone sick. The teeter-totters did their best to bruise our butts, as the trick was to make those who were “up” come crashing “down”. The highlight was the swings, pumping our legs until our feet scraped the stars.
I closed my eyes and flew towards to stars. The dare devils would leap off mid-flight, sticking their landings like Olympians. There were several stolen kisses, and even a little more. The gathering broke up by 11:30PM, as everyone had a midnight curfew.
We all walked home. I was only a block away. Still not a lick of fear – I was almost skipping. I imagined how this story would be told in Horlick’s hallways, then laughed when I thought about how exaggerated and hysterical it would all become. It was such a beautiful, memorable night, and void of worry or anxiety of any kind.
Retirement is bloated by nostalgia. It is in many ways the subtext of retirement’s story. Being retired encourages the deep yearning for the way we were, a longing for a saner, simpler time. Mand of my retirement days are filled with a burning desire to have the world once again in my hip pocket.
As I wallow in nostalgia, I am often struck by a single sobering note of my childhood and adolescence – A lack of fear. We had a “Boogeyman” and “The Twilight Zone,” but other than that, Racine was pretty much a “Mayberry.” What a luxury! How good to have a time in life which was nothing if not enchanted. How amazing to walk the streets of Racine feeling as though the whole city was your neighborhood, and all the people your good neighbors.
I will spend some creative time and energy of my retirement in an effort to recapture some of that for today’s children. I know it will be a tall order, and the chances of success slim, but being retired is an opportunity to relocate my soul, and thus, my hope. It sure can’t hurt. We owe it to them. Just to be able to walk around town without a single care. Hometowns should at least try to be “home” for their kids.
I do not miss ministry that much, but I do miss some things. I miss preaching to a congregation, teaching, honest dialogue with teenagers, but most of all, I miss funerals. In fact, I’ve met some people over the years for whom I secretly longed to conduct one… I joke, of course!!
I found conducting a funeral to be such a blessed opportunity. It was a rich chance to share remembrances with a family, lovely intimacies and a patchwork quilt of legacy. What did this good soul stand for? What were they all about? What was their essence, their center, their core?
A person’s legacy must be captured in stories. Legacy defies facts - Facts cannot capture the beauty or goodness, even greatness, of a soul. I love listening to these stories. I find it a scared chore to weave them together into a larger story. I so enjoy being the chosen storyteller. It is a role I believe to be holy, and I treat it as such.
I believe aging naturally ignites within us a questioning of our own legacy. What will we be remembered for? What will be the tone and texture and truths of our own stories? Reflecting on legacy can be satisfying, yet also sobering, stunning but also ordinary. Considering one’s legacy is good for the soul.
Unlike Presidents, who, we are told, ponder long and hard over their role in history, we are left to contemplate if we made a difference, no matter how small or incidental. Our scope is not the history books, but the hearts and minds of family and friends, and a few accidental tourists in our lives. Nevertheless, we tackle the assignment with the same earnestness of a President, and probably the same level of anxiety as to our inability to control the results.
Aging has poked and prodded my soul into taking some time to consider my own personal impact – The good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Some of what I’ve learned has been distressing, some impressive. It is an odd mix, as I suspect it would be for most of us.
I’m not as funny as I once was, or as light hearted or positive. I am, however, deeper and kinder and less arrogant. I am surprisingly less confident, shy even, and have become a bit of a recluse. I was always such a people pleaser, and looked for the spotlight every chance I got. I am now quite careful and cautious about when and where and with whom I share my time.
I have grown firmer in my doubts, braver in my questions, and yet far more faithful than ever before. I struggle with the institution of Church to a much greater degree than I did. I am appalled by those who claim such a certainty of religion, and who wish to march in place in the quicksand of their own beliefs. I am quickly irritated by the petty, mean spiritedness of so many within the church over such trivial things, things which distract from the mission of the church.
My assessment of myself has become simpler. I really have no idea of what my legacy will be, but I remain hopeful it will be someone who was compassionate and creative and sought to inspire. I hope to be remembered as a passionate, bleeding heart liberal who challenged people to be their best. I hope I encouraged and actualized change. I hope I lifted up a few good people to higher ground.
This legacy investigation will continue. I will keep you posted.
I have long believed that benches were intended for old people. Young and middle aged people only use benches for the purpose of a short wait, to be picked up, or to catch a bus, or for a quick breather before moving on. Only old people, I believed, use benches for the purpose of companionship and contemplation.
I am now old and I have the time to stop and sit and stare, and to do so for long periods of time. I enjoy it, especially the benches along the Lake Michigan waterfront. What is so mesmerizing about water and its various movements? Who knows? Who really cares? It is a delicious experience.
Retirement is an exercise in learning how to stop, sease, quit. Let go. Surrender all activity for a time. It's wondrous. I reminisce. I reflect. I wonder. I dream. I hope. I pray. I just look and listen. I listen to the season and the sounds of the lake. I listen to my heart and my soul. I try to overhear what God is whispering on the wind.
I am older. I now have a favorite bench. I would probably smack an intruder upside the head, and tell him or her that this is my own private spiritual property. Well, no, I wouldn’t, but you get the point. This bench is mine, sucker!
Being old doesn't mean I am on my last breath or decrepit. It just means I am getting up in years. I think 70 is a fair point to call ourselves old – or at least mature. I am also not young at heart. My heart feels old. I'm just a guy with some mileage on his body and soul, and I have earned the right to have my own bench.
If you drive by me when I am sitting on my bench, do not honk or wave or draw attention to your Self. I don’t care about your being there. Honest. I have zero need to see you, or talk to you, or know of your presence. I am on my bench, and I am paying attention to the Word, which is expressing itself in everything I experience. Be gracious, and leave me alone!
I suspect ministry has unconsciously prepared me for the silence of retirement. At present, many of my days are spent in the complete absence of sound. I read. I write. I paint. I take long drives, and capture lovely photos. All of which are done alone, and in silence. This is just how I like it, and, to be perfectly honest, exactly how I need it to be. I love the hush of these retirement days, and think of them as holy. As if God has spoken, and said, “Shush!”
Many of us grow weary of words, all the silly efforts to explain and defend and impress. All the sentences constructed to erect a purpose or point where there is none. It is exhausting to listen to conversations you have heard a trillion times before in slightly altered variations. It is near impossible to listen anymore to the lies being passed off as interesting stories. Towers of babble, like Christmas letters which strive to scrape the heavens with tales of fabricated happiness.
By the time we retire, many of us -- I suspect most ministers -- cannot wait for the quelling of sound. There is splendor in pushing the mute button, when one has been forced to listen to a steady drone of chaos and complaint. I say this still filled with compassion for those who must string words together like popcorn Christmas trim, only to find the result rather blah and preferably eaten. It is, however, simply a spiritual fact, that the noisiness of our lives creates a deep yearning in our soul for the void of sound.
I am at that point, and in this place. Most days I’d prefer not to talk. I have little to say. Even less trust in my ability to be interesting. I have few new ideas, and just a trace of occasional wisdom or insight. Little that I say is truly funny. I am a good storyteller, but my stories are melting like an ice cream cone in August.
And so it is with much of what I hear as well, a style of fiction, a sentimentally glorified romance novel, with the absence of facts or honesty. My attempts at telling the truth have grown dull and boring, tasteless in their attempt to entertain, and offering so little of that which might inspire or ignite the spirit.
I do have the occasional good conversation. I do listen to a really good story now and then. I am inspired by a great quote, line or comment. But, on the whole, I like what the silence has to say far better than the human mouth. I love listening to an author speak to me from out of the pages of a great book. I love to witness the messages of joy on a child’s face. I consume so much in just one glance of nature’s raw beauty – the simplicity of light and shadows having such a dramatic impact on a scene.
The biblical tower of Babel, a tower built by God-players, hell bent on speaking with God face to face. God makes the tower crumble. God also leaves the God-players babbling like idiots as they pick through the shards of their egos. These days I enjoy a babbling brook. Now, that has something to say. Of course, it is also just another reminder that we are not God, which I now receive as a blessed reprieve.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.