Every day on my way to work, and again on my way home, I pass a cemetery. You may be thinking, “So what?” And “so what?” may be the perfect question to ask. Why? Because I think that cemetery is a brilliant metaphor.
I had a photo on my phone that I intended to share with you in this blog. But when I returned home recently from a trip to the Caribbean, my phone did not. Apparently it is indeed a “smart” phone and decided to stay on the islands, despite my very adult decision to return to reality. And so, no picture. I hope my words can illustrate.
The cemetery I speak of sits very close to the road. It has been there since 1885 and the history it holds is evident, even from the road. A low stone wall borders the road and inside the wall are hundreds of grey stone grave markers. It is certainly the final resting place of people whose stories tell a rich tale. And around the grounds are trees – tall as buildings and also rooted in history – that shade the graves below them. As far as cemeteries go (and I must admit that I am always drawn to cemeteries), this one is beautiful.
As I drove past the cemetery in recent weeks, something continued to gnaw at me. Unable to really verbalize the feeling, I kept driving past day after day, until one afternoon a traffic backup caused me to stop right in front of that cemetery for several minutes. I sat and looked. And I looked some more. And then finally I realized it. The magnificent display of color in those trees is perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The yellows are brilliant yellows; the oranges are almost the color of fire. It is really autumn at its finest above a world that is otherwise grey; it is the juxtaposition of fall leaves against carved colorless headstones that makes the cemetery absolutely stunning. Sadly in a few weeks, that color will be gone.
Therein lies the metaphor about life. It is a metaphor that I think could be easily overlooked. Why? Because instead of focusing on youth, the metaphor encourages us to look at the beauty often found in aging. If the cycle of nature were compared to the cycle of our lives, autumn would, after all, be the period of our lives before winter – before the time we die. And while I join most in hoping that my own personal autumn lasts for many seasons, I am also now more keenly aware of how the autumn of life is really a beautiful time.
The leaves in autumn are ones that sprouted in spring and took all summer to grow and flourish. Now, in autumn, they hang confidently on trees and proudly display their color. Why shouldn’t we do the same? I think we spend so much time focusing on the physical characteristics often found in youth, we lose the true beauty that is found in the autumn of our lives. In the quest for a summer that’s long past, we miss an opportunity to let the beauty of experience, and resiliency, and maturity, and wisdom shine. And while I could argue the beauty of every season, the confidence of autumn strikes me as the most brilliant.
I have a birthday approaching. And while I am still relatively young, my summer is, in fact, past in many ways. And so when I blow out my birthday candles this year, I will view it not as the extinguishment of another year, but as the beginning of a new season of me.
Growing up, my mother used to say that time passes more quickly the older you get. I have come to see truth in that statement. But those trees in that cemetery remind me that there is indeed a great span of time between youth and death. And in every span of time, we have the chance to let our true beauty shine. After all, it is really only when we cease to live in true, vibrant color that we begin to die, no matter our age.