AUTUMN AND THE MAJESTY OF MATURITY
Written by Jessica Ponder on October 26, 2014
Falling for Fall and the Majesty of Maturity
I’ve always loved fall. As a child, I was all about pumpkin carvings, Halloween candy, bonfires and apple-picking. When my love for fall reached its adolescence, I moved on to pumpkin spice lattes, mums, ginkgo trees, and mulled cider.
But my feelings for fall finally reached maturity when I fell in love with my husband as we picked apples with my family. We first said “I love you” in my parents’ backyard, huddled around a suburban fire-pit. And we held hands and shivered nervously on the front porch of his old house as we talked late into the autumn evenings. I have nothing but fond memories of fall.
I still rejoice when the weather turns cooler. I break out my fall shoes and sweaters and scarves. I take pictures of my favorite trees and send them to friends. (I once tried sending a beautiful leaf to a friend by mail, but you can probably guess how that turned out.)
You can imagine too, how I mourned a few weeks ago, when I a friend posted something on Facebook about fall beginning “the slow march toward death.” Ironically, it seems the thing that I have always appreciated most about fall is the thing that he most hated.
I don’t think it’s an accident that leaves are most beautiful just before they die. Their cycle of life says something about the world that God has made, if we have the eyes to see it. Far from signaling “the slow march toward death,” the changing of the leaves is a metaphorical display of a life richly lived. The reds, yellows, and oranges proudly parade the beauty of maturity.
Failing to Find Beauty Where God Does
It shouldn’t surprise us that most people fail to think of beauty and maturity in this way. In the West, we devote ourselves almost exclusively to the “spring” and “summer” of our lives. Sex and the City made 40 the new 20. Men and women alike want to stay forever young, and botox, hair dye, and plastic surgery beckon us to come and drink from the fountain of youth.
But it doesn’t work. It can’t work. And on top of that, we miss out on the real beauty that God built into the advanced years of a life well lived. “Gray hear is a crown of glory,” God says (Prov. 16:31), but we clearly don’t believe him.
We see our sinful confusion not only in our idealization of youth, but also in our trivialization of the old. I was reminded of this recently while at a local antique store. Everywhere around me were old things to be purchased, but rarely used. That’s how it so often is with antiques: we pay a lot of money for things we plan to sit on shelves and watch them collect dust.
(Don’t get me wrong, I love a good junk shop, thrift store, or antique mall. But I do try to use the things that I buy there. Even though they are old, they still work—sometimes much better than what is new!)
In a more sinister way, I’ve found that we tend trivialize not just older things, but older people too. Judging by TV shows, jokes, cartoon strips, and everyday conversation, it seems we mostly think the elderly just talk about the good ol’ days, fish, and go to craft shows. What we don’t do, however, is seek real wisdom from them. We don’t revere them. We certainly don’t think that they are beautiful.
The darker side of all this is seen whenever someone puts their parents or grandparents in a nursing home, hardly ever to visit them again. It’s as if “that nuisance” finally got put away so that everyone else could get on with their lives. It’s tragic, it’s extreme, but it’s common. I often meet elderly homeless persons in Richmond who were turned out into the streets by their families in undiluted selfishness.
Sometimes people even put themselves on the “shelves of life.” They simply stop living and do nothing of value. They waste away on a diet of romance novels, golf games, cruises and early bird buffets. I’ve heard such people say, “I’ve earned this. It’s my time to spend as I please.” But a life that ends so selfishly isn’t what God intended. It’s the opposite of the trees in fall, lacking the beauty of maturity in every way.
The Most Beautiful People
Because God designed maturity to be beautiful, I think the most beautiful people in life are older people who lived their whole lives truly loving God, loving people, and loving life in God’s world.
I remember being moved to tears once as I observed an elderly man in a church service. He was singing boldly with hands raised and a face full of joy. He was not disengaged, on a slow march toward death; he was fully alive, vibrant, and beautiful in a way that he could not have displayed when he was twenty.
Just think of the hardships he had seen by this point in his life: the deaths of many friends and family members, sickness and failing health, and a whole life of the kinds of stresses that people in the spring of their lives have only begun to experience. But that’s exactly why his act of praise was so much richer. His faith had undergone years of trials and testing, yet here he was with a soft heart, calloused hands, silver hair, and a warbling voice, singing loudly to the God who saved him.
Frank Sinatra once sang that the autumn of our years are like vintage wine from fine old kegs. He was right. The final years of our lives can be the most beautiful of them all. The fall reminds us of this reality, of the secret to a vibrant, rich life lived for the glory of god. “Gray hair is a crown of glory,” God says, “and it is attained in the way of righteousness.”
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to two (so far). She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.