The first forecast of frost and snow in the fall brings with it a sense of panic. The window air conditioners need to come out. The flowers and plants need to come in. The lawn mower should be tucked safely under cover. The snow shovels must be uncovered. We wonder why we haven't had a long enough fall for the leaves to turn color. Will fall even return? Why can't fall last forever? It's my favorite season!
We have a maple tree in our side yard. It hasn't even started to turn colors. It never seems to get a chance. The cold and snow comes too soon for it to turn. We planted it to replace a huge, old dutch elm. I said for many years if we lost that elm, we would have to move. I wouldn't be able to live here with it gone. It was a wonderful shade tree and harbored a family of screech owls for several winters. I wanted it to last forever. But diseased trees will come down. It did! Obviously, we didn't move and the maple we planted is large enough to provide shade and harbor birds as well, if only fall would last and it could turn the promised red. I want this maple to last forever.
The divorce rate in the U.S. has gone down over the last decade. Some believe it's because millennials are waiting longer to get married. Others believe it's because cohabitation is a more common arrangement and actual marriage is less common. Whatever the reason, there's a good possibility intimate relationships are more stable than ten years ago. Still, there is considerable evidence relationships don't always last. There is brokenness in families, brokenness in the work place, brokenness in most every person's life. Relationships are not always lasting.
As the four of us sat around the table the other evening, talking about the aches and pains of aging, we wondered where all those years of easy physical activity went. We still have the family volleyball game over the Christmas holidays but the football game at Thanksgiving is long gone and the racquetball rackets lie unused. Recognition that the body doesn't last forever becomes a kind of whole body knowledge and a topic of conversation among elders.
Once driving through Iowa, we came upon a town recently hit by a tornado. I had never seen a storm ravaged community up close and personal like that one. Trees were broken or uprooted. Houses were only shells or foundations. People had been working on clean up long enough that there were huge piles of debris that one imagined would be hauled away somewhere. Sometimes whole communities are blown away like that. We think they are our home forever and then with a quirk of nature or mistake of human kind they are changed or gone, never to return.
One can only imagine how refugees must feel, leaving cities and villages that have been home to many generations as they lie in war torn ruins. We are sometimes invited to recall cities and towns of ancient civilizations, recently unearthed under tons of wind blown dirt over centuries of time. If history is any teacher, our human communities simply won't last forever. Homes will disappear.
One begins to ponder, if not seasons or trees or relationships or bodies or communities, is anything lasting?
In World Religions class we are studying Hinduism. This religious tradition asks the question of what people really want. The initial answer might be called the path of desire. We desire pleasure over pain; success over failure; recognition over obscurity. There's no shame in this. These desires are natural. But eventually we discover that these desires are fleeting. They don't last! The good meal has been eaten. The sexually addicted is satiated. The "famous" are falling into rehab or obscurity. There's nothing left for money to buy.
What lasts has to be beyond oneself. We are finite. We seek the infinite. When we are able to give up self centeredness, get beyond the ego, that is when we find true religion and discover what Hinduism calls the path of renunciation. Then the emphasis is on duty and service, where one finds personal fulfillment and what is truly lasting. Perishable as we are, we need to put on the imperishable! Finite as we are, we are in need of connecting to the infinite. It's not only Hinduism that points us toward what lasts. Christianity does as well. 1 Corinthians tells us, "Love never ends." It's as simple as that. Flowers may fade. Trees may die. Relationships may break. Bodies will die. Communities may be destroyed. But the infinite, love, remains. "Faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."