Autumn Reflections {beauty in death, peace in change}

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There is a beauty in death, if you can look beyond the pain to find it.

I see it every day from my kitchen window, watching the autumn slowly give way to winter. Change, pure and simple, taking place before my very eyes. Death giving way to new life over and over again.

The leaves, in all of their glory, have been radiating across the countryside for weeks now, their vibrancy lighting up the landscape like fire. Nothing quite compares to a New England fall, the variety of colors astounding even those of us who have lived a lifetime here.

But now their beauty has faded and, in a last effort to cling to the life they had lived, each one holds on with a surprising tenacity. Their resistance is pointless, but I don’t blame them. They are holding on to everything they’ve ever had, clutched in a vice-like grip on the last semblance of living they have left.

No, I don’t blame them at all. I envy them. At least they’re still holding on.

If you’ve never seen leaves fall in person you may have fallen prey to the dramatic depiction of windstorms sweeping through the forests, leaving the trees bare in one fell swoop. And while we certainly have our share of autumn storms, the leaves oftentimes still don’t fall, despite the wind’s best efforts to dislodge them.

Holding fast, the leaves withstand the storm, but in doing so, use up the very last of their strength. Those that make it through the night may see the next sunrise, but their fate has already been sealed; the slightest breeze to pass by is enough to pull them free.

And then they fall, their battle finally lost, gently, gracefully, like big, beautiful snowflakes gliding softly to the ground.

Looking out upon it, the view is breathtaking: one after another after another, falling silently to the ground. It’s as if it is snowing leaves, a majestic end that rivals even the beauty of seeing them in full peak.

But this year the sight holds no joy for me. This phenomenon of nature that has taken my breath away year after year now brings only pain as I see the same quiet end taking place in my own heart.

Change brings death, at least a death of some kind, every time. The end of a season, the closing of a chapter; stepping from one course of direction to another. Sometimes it brings rejoicing, sometimes weeping, sometimes both. But it cannot help but bring the end. It is inevitable: change brings death.

What resonates in my soul so deeply is not the fact that they die, but rather, how they do it. What wells up in my throat even now is not the grief of the loss, but the overwhelmingly simplistic end to the struggle.

They don’t swirl or tumble or whip or fight; there is no resistance on their part except to hold fast until they absolutely cannot hold on any longer. They simply cling to life until they cannot and then they fall, submitting to their fate with a peace I have long envied in my heart. Death didn’t come in the storm, but the stillness.

Death isn’t always violent, nor should it always be resisted. The passing of one season to another is as beautiful and necessary in my own life as it is in nature. But it is death. And with every fiber of my being I feel the loss of a life once lived. Every day that passes by underscores the finality of the day that passed before.

I have never seen the cycle of life displayed so flagrantly before me as I do now. As I watch my hopes and dreams of yesterday falling softly to the ground, I see beauty in the pain. There is peace in this loss. Every heart-wrenching step taking me away from the life I knew is bringing me that much closer to the promises of tomorrow.

I’ve experienced this pain of loss before, but in the past the sheer intensity of grief has swept me away with it, leaving little if no time for reflection and intentionality.

This time, however, it has unraveled so painfully slow, so deliberate and methodical, that I have been fully aware of every flicker of change taking place before my eyes. From luscious green summer foliage to bright autumn leaves, and now to the dullness of fleeting life, I have watched as if with a bird’s eye view, my whole world begin to change and unravel. The momentum with which it travels carries me along, slowly but consistently. I know I couldn’t stop it if I tried, and I’m not entirely sure I would want to even if I could.

Change has brought with her a host of unforeseen blows, each taking their turn to wreak havoc on my security and stability. But I am not afraid.

I clung to my branch as long as I possibly could, praying and hoping to somehow avoid the final plunge, but now as it comes I find my heart filled with faith, for I know I am not alone on this journey: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV)

And now there is nothing left to do but fall, utterly and completely abandoned to the will of my God, to the call of my Savior. Letting go of the things I cannot change, releasing the worries of the things I cannot see, I cling to my Jesus… and fall.

There is a beauty in death, if you can look beyond the pain to find it.

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