On the coming of autumn

Ocotillo leaves turning colors as autumn approaches

Autumn is coming, here in the Mojave. The winds that are bringing Hurricane Rosa toward the Southwest signal its arrival. For the past week, early pre-dawn mornings have been cool, and now the days are changing as well.

I love this time of year, it's like spring but with wisdom. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, and the woman I love is getting older, and we've been through so much together, but it feels like autumn is the middle-aged part of life. It's full of beauty, a cooling from the intensity of summer heat, and often, a sense of inner peace, or at least acceptance of change.

Its arrival, as welcome as it is, heralds the imminence of winter, which here in the desert, can mean anything from not noticing any change whatsoever, to icy winds scraping hard across the desert floor, the chill of snow in the mountains brought on the wind. Or it can even mean snow itself, which, though rare, has happened, creating its own stunning portrayal of desert beauty.

This autumn arrives with bleakness, however. Summer has proven there is a consistent trend in our climate here, and it's not for the better. Now, the desert is beginning to cool, but we'll have to keep an eye on whether it cools nearly as much as previous autumns, or if summer's warming trend continues beyond and into the fall.

Autumn also arrived with harrowing and devastating news.

About two years ago, a friend of ours in Seattle invited us to her daughter's wedding. It was important to her that we attend. So we turned it into a road trip from the desert to Seattle, with stops to visit my father (the last time I saw him alive), and our son and his wife. I loved driving Highway 395 through the eastern Sierra, which is always beautiful, and then driving the coast, especially the southern Washington, Oregon, and northern Californian coastlines.

Our friend, who is from India, was excited. Her daughter was marrying a nice Seattle man, and the wedding was a mix of Indian and white traditions. It was beautiful and uplifting, and yes, it proved to be important for us to attend, for both the mother and the family. We were treated with honor, and the rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception were all deeply beautiful celebrations. It was inspiring to see the new couple's love receive such enthusiastic joy and support.

Last night, as Hurricane Rosa's winds made their first appearance just before twilight, the news came of a horrific tragedy. The couple, whose first child, a precious little girl, nearing her first birthday, was in the hospital on life support. Something had happened while she was in the care of her babysitter, and by the time she had gotten to the hospital, the little girl was declared brain dead.

My wife was supporting our friend, who had recently suffered a heart attack. She has had a difficult life, with an arranged marriage to a man she didn't love, and her children - and grandchildren - are the loves of her life. This little girl was the most precious thing to her, and this tragedy may well be the proverbial "last straw," for her in this life.

Her daughter and son-in-law now face the decision of removing their beautiful baby from life support, and planning her funeral. The loss cuts through like an icy winter wind that carves through us, carrying away the promise of spring.

We know. We buried a son. The screams of our children and my wife from August 31, 2006 still echo in my head. They have become part of who I am now. That day has scarred our family deeply, and the wound remains jagged and raw. We learned, the hard way, that you don't "get over" these losses. You may get through them somehow, but never over them. Anxiety and depression, two ailments I never had until that date, now dog me every second of every day. Every possible horror that could possibly happen, stampedes into my thoughts about whatever I may be doing at any given time. That phone call might be spam (as it often is). Or it might be death cackling on the other end, adding to the list of those I love whom I will never see again in this life.

And now, this gets visited on this young couple who had their whole lives as a family, ahead of them.

I think part of the coming of autumn is the realization you can do nothing to prevent winter's coming. Nothing you do will stop that icy wind from howling through the canyons and across the mesas. Nothing you can do will stop the night from growing longer. In so many ways, though we try to deceive and distract ourselves with our gadgets and toys and busy important airs, we remain, in the ways that truly matter, utterly powerless.

I think that may be the lesson of the coming of autumn. We are powerless to prevent the imminent arrival of winter, death, and loss. Life is essentially the process of taking from us all we value and cherish, until finally, all we have left to lose is our own life itself. And then, that is gone as well.

Some people think that what terrifies us most as human beings is losing our own life. I'm not sure that's true. I'm terrified of losing those I love, of the next devastating phone call, the next grim acknowledgement of death's role in life.

At the same time, far inside this aging physical body that currently houses my soul, I remember the words that came to me out of the blue (literally) one afternoon, and those words, which were not present on my mind at the time, speak of a love that winter cannot touch.

"And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

Those words really did come to me - audibly - one afternoon of a hazy, glaring kind of day, while I was stuck in traffic in Seattle on my way back to the sanctuary of our island home. I remember looking at the sky and its monochromatic look, with the sun both insanely brilliant and bright, lacking color but washing out the sky. And I thought to myself, this looks like what the end of the world must look like.

And, at the risk of being labeled by some, a lunatic, those words were loudly pronounced to me. And so, whenever I find the bleakness and despair of life becoming overwhelming, those words, often tangled in the screams and cries of family and friends suffering the torments of loss, emerge and it is just enough to know that there is more than we see, more than we know, and we need to trust, to have faith, as hard as that may be, as foolish as it may seem.

Winter doesn't last forever. Spring, with its youthful exuberance, will come again. As will winter. And summer. As will my favorite season, though it seems more frequently to come tinged with sorrows, autumn.

The wispy clouds preceding Hurricane Rosa reached out toward the moon this morning, as Juliett, the Mojave Sand Leopard, and I, went for our morning walk. Autumn has arrived. Winter will come. But as I prepare for winter, I remind myself of the laser-sharp clarity of its night skies, of the dazzling jewels of the Milky Way, and the deepness of its long, dark nights. I pray for all those we lose, and all who suffer. In essence, for all of us. I pray for God's will to be done, as God wills it, for the wisdom of autumn is knowing I am yet another tumbling leaf who has burst forth full of life in spring, matured in the warmth and sunshine of summer, and who falls as winter approaches, like all the other leaves, like all the other autumns before, like God wills. We are just falling leaves with evergreen pretensions, and that is all there is to it.

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