Nothing is quite so remarkable as the change that takes place in the autumn. Where not so long ago we were surrounded by bushes and trees resplendent in their summer greens, we are now living in a world of jumbled hues of orange and gold and rust. Where just days ago the lawn around the house was a well-vacuumed carpet of grass, clipped and tidy, it is now virtually covered over with fallen dried leaves.
Autumn lingers like pleasant memories from a good friend’s visit, like the fresh-scrubbed oxygen that a thunderstorm leaves behind. It is a time of change, when every morning brings new colors, new smells, and an altered vista. It is a time when even as the pace of change quickens in the natural world, the pace of man slows. It is the season of meandering strolls through multihued glens, through the melancholy fluttering of leaves falling to the ground.
Autumn is a time of introspection, when the sniff of drying foliage and loam slow the mind to consider days past, the highs and lows of a life. Every season has its own beauty, but autumn, like spring, brings with it a mood. If spring exults in new life, autumn examines the old; if spring is the anticipation of tomorrow, autumn is a meditation on yesterday.
So much of life is process; so much of it is just paying attention. What good is our stumbling if we never look back to understand why we tripped? What good is a victory if it doesn’t leave us more humble? What good is life itself if tomorrow doesn’t find us better than we were the day before? In the magnificent untidiness of our life-walk, it is necessary to pause beneath the drifting, dying leaves of autumn and examine the grace just spent. I want to learn to pay better attention: to listen, to observe, to learn.
Nature never stands still; it is always moving, pressing into the next day. Today’s tree will be taller tomorrow—or it will be fallen, lying dead and rotting in last year’s leaves. Today’s grass, luxuriously pliant and green, will tomorrow be brittle and parched, brown and sharp to the touch. The fawn that accompanies his mother today will next year be taller and on his own—or he may become a hunter’s trophy.
Time never stops. Season passes into season, change inevitably comes. As I gaze out my window, into the trees of Land Park that each day put on new clothes, I feel a sense of urgency. What have I accomplished today? The days continue to tick by; what am I doing that will yield eternal results? The person I pass on the street today will tomorrow be older—or dead. What have I done today so that his tomorrow will be something more than just his being one day older?
Have I been kind to those around me, or have I been impatient and rude? Do I expect everyone to be perfect? Or do I allow for the imperfections everyone else permits me? Will the world be better—or larger—tomorrow, because of something I’ve done today? Have I filled up each day using the gifts God has graciously entrusted to me? Have I used them or have I squandered them?
Some young plants and trees still need to be watered in the autumn. They ask for deep-rooted sustenance to carry them through the dormancy of winter. As I fill the old galvanized bucket with water and carry it to the base of the small tree newly planted in the yard, I notice a few drops leaking from the bottom edge, trailing a glistening path of drips through the drying leaves that carpet the grass.
And I realize that when we are born, we are each given a bucketful of days. God fills our bucket to overflowing, pouring into it, as well, all God’s goodness and blessings, gifts and opportunities. As time passes, the days drip out, one by one, until, at our earthly end, the bucket is dry. Our days have run out. Our gifts and opportunities have reached their end. No more. Each of us begins with a bucketful of days. But only God knows how many days are in our bucket. Will we spend them well?