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Winter of Life

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Holding on to each other for support, we slowly make our way to our favorite spot on the porch of the nursing home where we have been living the last three years. The rocking chairs lined across the wall with their wide outstretched arms seem to be inviting us to ‘sit a spell.’ In comfortable silence, we settle in and aimlessly start rocking back and forth, each of us becoming lost in our thoughts of other times, other places. It is so comforting to have Papa by my side; most of the patients are not so blessed.

As our glances meet, a wave of tenderness sweeps over me as he reaches for my wrinkled time-worn hand, and presses it lovingly to his cheeks. Yes! Contrary to popular belief held by unenlightened youth, that special bond still warms our hearts, even after sixty-four years of being together.

It is a beautiful late autumn day and my mind turns to thoughts of the seasons. Just as there are seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter in Nature, there are the same seasons in the human life span. Of course, this simple analogy is far from being a new concept, but is one that many words have been written about.

Of late, our shadows have become grotesquely long and skinny in the afternoon sun, and the cool crispness of fall is in the air. It’s the season in which many of us in the winter of our lives feel an ardent longing; for what exactly, we do not know. Maybe it’s a yearning for all our previous seasons of life or maybe it’s just a particular season that meant so much to us. There’s also a feeling of sadness or regret because it’s the time of year when we know full well, the frolicsome summer activities (of our youth) are long gone, and it’s time to be thinking of the approaching winter.

As Papa and I move from Autumn to the Winter of our lives, I am reminded of these lyrics from a Robert Burns* poem so aptly describing the transition.

“The forests are leafless, the meadows are brown,

And all the gay foppery of summer is flown:

How long have I liv’d—but how much liv’d in vain,

How little of life’s scanty span may remain.

How quick Time is flying, how keen Fate pursues.”

Unconsciously rocking to and fro, we are idly watching the colorful leaves as they fall, fluttering soft as snowflakes to the ground. Suddenly a strong gust of wind swooshes down through the treetops turning the trees into a flurry of motion and rustling sound, leaving the porch where we are sitting, and the ground below covered with a blanket of leaves.

As suddenly as the wind came, it was gone, and in its wake was a quiet, deathlike stillness. A feeling of melancholy sweeps over me as I see the trees now standing naked, stripped of the last vestige of their striking fall canopy of reds, yellows and oranges.

Only yesterday it seems, it was a different season. Then, their leaves were a vibrant shiny green, filled with all the excitement that summers of life bring to each living thing, whether it be human or nature. Gentle summer breezes caressing them, the rustling of the leaves was such a soothing sound as we sat in the cool shade for hours on end, indulging ourselves in reminiscence.

Now the old stately trees stand silent, and lifeless, it seems; their barren branches reduced to a drab gray wintertime color. Gray, the color of with ‘old.’

“Papa, they remind me of us. Just as the trees have been stripped of their gold, the gold in our hair has been replaced by silver. And I see their gloomy grayness as a mirror image of the time of life thrust upon us. Winter season for them, winter season for us.”

However, there is a significant difference. Even though they have no signs of life, winter is only a time of rest for them as they await their natural rejuvenation in the spring. Though we old-timers know and accept the fact that winter is the final season of life for us here on earth, there is an innate longing for life instilled in our being. Burns said it best. “Thou golden time, o’ Youthful prime, Why comest thou not again!”

*Robert Burns – “The Fall of the Leaf”

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