Bittersweet peace. That, for me, is what autumn always brings. Winter begins to whisper in the distant corners of the mind, but the magical stillness and rich indolence of these sun-blessed days overwhelm those whispers with their peace.
This has been a good summer. My son, Nik, has been home and we were able to share a precious time out on Pine Ridge among the kind and generous Lakota people. We were able to do a sweat together; he was able to be part of a reservation Fourth of July; we drove, we talked, we built that bridge of memories that will be ours forever. Now he is back at school, several hundred miles from here, and it is only Louise and me and two cats and a new dog named Lucie. Life will soon settle into the quietude and rhythm of a house with no children.
It is such a change to have a childless house. The energy changes; the chaos of intermixing lives takes on a new and distant air. Nik is still in our lives, as are our other children — Louise’s two daughters, Stephanie and Alex, and her son, Creighton. They are children of a previous marriage, but I count them as mine as well. But they are even older than Nik, and each has moved on to an adult life that is only ours to enter as they see fit to invite us in.
All of them are taking wing in their own ways. We offer counsel and sanctuary and money when we can. But we are not central to their lives any more, nor should we be.
It is a strange balance. None of us wishes to fetter our children, either psychologically or physically. Yet we want to remain a part of their lives and want them to remain a part of ours. It is no easy task to find this balance — how much do they want us to be present; how much do they want to be free of our influence. Sometimes, perhaps, we intrude too much. Sometimes, perhaps, we are too distant when we should be alive to their needs and desires. Yet we do our best, as they do theirs. Together, we move forward in that endlessly creative, constantly changing mystery of being a family.
As parents, we must hope that we have done our jobs well; that we have raised honest and honorable children; that they see themselves as part of a larger whole for which they bear some responsibility; that they avoid violence in their lives, both by and against them; that the snares of alcohol or debilitating drugs do not entrap them; that they choose their partners and professions well; that they find a way to make a meaningful place for themselves in this increasingly complex and difficult world.
How will they buy homes? What will they confront as they try to raise children? How will this tinderbox of religious ideologies that is gripping the earth affect the lives they live? Will our cultural shortsightedness and pursuit of individual benefit give way to a longer view of responsibility to the seventh generation? Will our penchant for branding and commodifying everything kill our spirits?
These are the dark fears, from the practical to the abstract.
But, then, there is hope as well. Excesses, whether physical, psychological, or political, call forth their own correctives. At some point, the people of good heart will say, “enough,” and a balance will be reasserted. What and how is difficult to say. But it is a law of nature, and nature does not negotiate. Our children will be part of this rebalancing, because it is into this world out of balance that they are growing. They will find a world of mystery, frustration, and possibility that is different, but no less challenging than the world into which we, their parents, were born. And, somehow, they will make their peace with it and contribute to its growth and unfolding. Then they, too, will pass it on.
So I sit on my porch, watching the lake, petting the dog and cats, and thinking of this turning of the seasons. Yes, there are changes coming, for all of us, in all of our lives. Autumn, I find, is a good time to reflect on these changes in my life, and to do what I can to make them wholesome and helpful.
So, as the kids go back to school, the colors on the edges of the leaves change, the smell and feel of the air shifts, and the light takes a more muted cast, take a little time to give some thought to how you, in your own life, can cause this shift in seasons to be a shift of the heart.
Savor your friends, give love to your children, offer help and hope to those with whom you share a touch. It doesn’t take much, only mindful attentiveness to the everyday moments of life.
Then, perhaps, we can all be mirrors to the goodness around us Then, perhaps, we can reflect the beauty of this changing season in our lives, just as the lake outside my window is reflecting the autumn beauty of this haunted, northern land.