Autumn Colors: Preparing for Change
By The Rev. Dr. Georgine Buckwalter
Autumn is a “letting go” and “leaving behind” kind of season, but there is some crackle and pop to it — its nip can bring a surge of energy — a tingly kind of “shoulder season” as the travel agents call it. Retirement experts note that 50% of elders indicate they want to travel, yet retirement is more about being home and “living purposeful meaningful lives doing very ordinary things,” says Jim Yih in 65 Secrets to Amazing Retirement Travel (Sellers Publishing).* I think he’s onto something.
It can seem less fun to “plan home.” But retirement in and of itself is a bit of a trip. It’s the autumn of our lives, during which we make our life lists and gain satisfaction by checking off our boxes. There are practical financial and health matters like calling the lawyer (again) and tweaking “The Will” and creating and signing a living will; designating a healthcare surrogate; having “the conversation” with your adult children about “last things” and finally, making lots of copies and keeping them in an easily accessible place. Those last two can be a challenge. But intergenerational transparency is as necessary as extra thermal long-johns and insulation in the attic. Come winter, that is.
Speaking of attics, Scripture says, “Set in order thine house.” Though this may seem like a boring and tedious chore, sifting through life’s accumulated detritus and minutia can be super-charged with meaning. It can jump-start a “life review” (a central spiritual task of aging) as we remember/interpret people, places, and events, all the while folding them into our personal Heilsgeschicte (“salvation history”). The very act of tossing away becomes holy purging. Dis-encumbering is life-giving (and our adult children “will rise up and call us blessed”). Sometimes, holding on to stuff is a kind of idolatry, right? We don’t have to do it all by ourselves, either. There are bonded concierge and moving services for elders, which will help us, inventory and dispense and dispose!
What we hold onto holds us down. There’s joy to be had in this dispersing and disposing, which leads me to perhaps the most important purge of all. Winter is heavy enough without the burden of old hurts, resentments, and “things done and left undone” pulling us into the dark. Don’t just inventory the attic. Borrow from the 12-step programs and do a “fearless moral inventory.” Then, “make amends where possible.” Talk about losing weight and freight!
Squirrels gather nuts in autumn. It’s our season for life-long learning to be stored as wisdom, for gathering gratitude and switching from chronos to the kairos of jubilee and Sabbath. We sometimes forget that Sabbath is about RE-creation, not just hammocks and hummingbirds. Retirees give witness to a God who calls in ever new, surprising ways. Keeping a daily Gratitude Journal helps. Autumn can be a time of renewed wonder (an even sweeter kind than that of childhood). There is some kind of feedback loop at work here. Let’s be like Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “Ask for wonder and then practice gratitude!”
Finally, let’s recover the art of savoring. Today’s pace of living itself militates against relishing anything at all (not just food). Scripture says: “Taste and see that the Lord is Good.” We can’t do that on the fly. It takes time. Giving ourselves over to our senses at both the physical and spiritual levels invite savoring. We must intend this. Can Doxology be far behind? I think not.
The Rev. Dr. Georgine Buckwalter has been a full-time, long-term care Chaplain for 28 years in Louisville, KY. She has taught at many universities in Kentucky, and at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. She is a national keynote speaker and workshop leader on aging, spirituality, and Alzheimer’s.
*65 Secrets to Amazing Retirement Travel, edited by Mark Evan Chimsky (Sellers Publishing)