Accepting The Winds Of Change
Outside my window, red and gold leaves that just yesterday were clinging safely to their branches blast through the air as if shot from a cannon. An impatient wind is accelerating the annual rite of passage between summer to winter, otherwise known as fall.
Exalted by many for its crisp, clear days, resumption of routine and glorious explosion of color, fall to me is an unwelcome reminder of one of life's most profound truths:
Like the wind today, the changes that blow into our lives are relentless, and we, like the leaves, are powerless to resist. But still we stubbornly try.
The usual problem I have with fall is my refusal to let go of summer -- the warmth, the light, the extra time with my kids. So I pout and sulk and wallow in self-pity until, of course, I have to snap out of it to deal with more pressing concerns, such as homework, head lice and Halloween costumes. This year, however, a pile of life circumstances make my usual autumn angst feel trivial in comparison.
I'm mourning the death of my beloved elderly dog, Kona, whom I held in my arms as the vet injected him with a drug that was supposed to end his suffering within a minute or two. Twenty minutes later, I had to consent to a second injection, the vet and I having both underestimated the power of Kona's life force, which was, in its own way, resisting change.
My body, too, is in major transition. I'm 53 years old and my last menstrual period was seven months ago (and I assure you it's not due to pregnancy!). So ends the familiar monthly cycle with which I've had a love-hate relationship for more than 40 years, and with it, an excuse for the natural ebbs and flows of my energy, cravings and mood.
Most significantly, this fall I'm ending my almost-16-year marriage to my children's father, who filed for divorce in July. It wasn't a total surprise, but I had taken seriously the "'til death do we part" part of our vows and clung to the belief that, together, we could solve any problem if we worked hard enough. I was wrong.
Change. Although we often don't recognize it until it's big and dramatic, it usually doesn't begin that way. With leaves, we first notice the color shift, after which the stems loosen and a few flutter down. Eventually, they pile up or all blow off at once by a gust of wind. However and whenever it happens, the result is the same: The tree is bare.
Kona's death began gradually, with a slight limp in his back legs. Within a year, he had lost all control over the back half of his body and required round-the-clock care.
The diminishment of my reproductive hormones started after I gave birth to twin daughters at age 42. I went straight from postpartum to perimenopause, with no time in between to catch my breath.
And my marriage suffered a slow, painful death from neglect. Sure, there were loud interludes of rage and fury, but it was mostly silent apathy that sent us our separate ways.
As French author Anatole France wrote, "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."
Moving now into winter, I leave behind a version of myself that no longer exists. In its place is a woman who is more capable, more resilient, more evolved. Like the bare tree that awaits the tender, green shoots of spring, I stand ready for what comes next. Perhaps that's the gift that strong winds leave in their wake. If so, I shall turn to face them head-on and, as the leaves do, let them take me where they will.