I love summer. A Midwesterner my entire life, summer has always been an elusive prize, a questionable gamble between the winters that are always just around the corner. But the freedom to wear sandals and shorts and the opportunity to leave the house without mittens and three layers of clothing is an elusiveness I have always been willing to chase. When the first signs of summer come in April, I am hesitant to embrace the summer fully, knowing the weather will argue with itself for several more weeks. But when May finally comes, I paint my toenails and wear my flip-flops, knowing that there are months ahead of sunshine.
By August, I have all but forgotten about the precariousness of summer in the Midwest. It has been warm for three months, and I cannot remember the feel of close-toed shoes. Skirts and sunglasses are my staple; winter coats have been shoved to the back of the closet. And mittens? What are mittens?
But the past several days in my town have brought with them the first signs of fall—rainy afternoons, and even a few leaves that are turning red and yellow. I am starting to remember that winter does exist, and fall is the reminder.
Something happens in my soul every year when summer begins to fade. I start to remember my first days of school, jumping in piles of leaves with my sister, high school homecoming dances, and college football games. I begin to think backwards in time; I take time to remember.
And as I do this, I think of all of the falls and winters and summers and springs that have already taken place. I begin to think of the fading nature of life, and something in me is always surprised at the way that the seasons pass so quickly. I wonder where the summer went—how August is already over and September itself is disappearing. I think about how quickly winter will arrive and I am humbled by the thought of another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, another New Year and another calendar.
I am surprised to find that I am older, and that time affects me, too. I am reminded that my time on this earth is not endless, and that like the leaves on the trees around me, I too, will die. And this is why fall is timely in her arrival. She is a good teacher. Summer feels timeless; fall reminds me of the true nature of time. Her lessons are subtle but true, and I am trying, this year, to heed the education she offers.
The education is this: to know that death is near and not ignore it, but to live brilliantly in the days that are left. Although winter is imminent and sure, although the leaves on the trees will die, the beauty they offer in their fading is one of the most brilliant scenes in nature.
And this is the truth each one of us faces every day; life on this earth is not endless. We will all have a winter to face, and some of us will meet that season sooner than others, sooner than we planned. But we have the opportunity to live our days with brilliance and beauty—and hope. Christ says that he came to give full life—abundant life—to those who walk in relationship with him (John 10:10). Walking in relationship with Jesus gives us the hope of eternal life and the reality of peace and assurance during our life on this earth. In a world that is confused and hurting, our lives with Jesus show the beauty and brilliance of life that is lived with joy, even when there is the constant possibility of death.
I do not know when I will die; none of us do. But fall beckons me to remember that while we will all face physical death, our lives can proclaim the life and truth of Christ—the one who gives us fullness of life on this earth and the next. That is something truly meaningful, and truly brilliant.