October is the fiery opal gem of the year; so many tints and shades of bronze, red, brown, green and yellow. No wonder opal is the birthstone for October. We anticipate mellow weather, and yet, I’m recalling the cold rains and sometimes even snow flurries that blew in for some of Kerm’s Columbus Day horse shows. October has its stormy moods as well as wonderful autumn days. Darkness does come earlier and earlier, and I’m trying to accept that as an invitation to relax. Hmmm… it’s not working! Harvest is mostly done but, we haven’t yet fallen below 32 degrees. We sort of hope for frost because, as one friend commented; “It has been a great summer — for the mosquitoes!” Freezing their little needle-like beaks is a satisfying, if vengeful, thought!
In the garden, only a few plants are flowering. The indigo blue of Monkshood keeps the gardens looking alive along with the lacy white blooms of chocolate eupatorium (cousin to Joe Pye Weed). Chrysanthemums are still looking good. Monkshood has two other names which, if you’ve read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you should know; wolfsbane and aconite. This plant is both poisonous and medicinal, the poison indicated by the “bane” ending. Its roots are the most toxic, but I’m fairly careful to wash my hands after cutting it for bouquets. Toxicity aside, it is a beautiful plant, and many other attractive garden plants can also be toxic; lilies of the valley, castor beans, and foxglove, to name just a few. They, too, are medicinal if used with knowledge and intelligence.
Speaking of growing darkness and toxicity, they are metaphors for too much emotional and philosophical miasma swirling around us, poisoning people’s thoughts and relationships. A friend who worked in the school was continually concerned about the “couch-surfers;” kids living in cars and around about. These young people, for many reasons, have found conditions at home so harmful to their well-being that they leave, and then crash on any couch that will have them. Or if they are lucky enough to have a vehicle, live in it! She called them the “lost boys” (no relationship to the similarly-named group in Africa or the “I don’t-want to-grow-up” ones in Peter Pan”). Kids in these circumstances, living in small towns, have limited choices. There are no rescue centers, no public transportation, and little chance for employment, so escaping to something better is difficult; no support system. They rely on friends and their own wits for survival, and often make some seemingly necessary, but poor choices. I am sure that if our small community has these kids, they are also floating around your communities. I have no wonderful answers, but I do know that instead of sending out judgmental thoughts when we see these kids looking scruffy and idle, we need to be offering a kind smile and adding them to our prayer list. I have seen the frequent truth of “It takes a village to raise a child” and this is a situation where help is needed —- and not only the lost young people, but those of any age, who are lonely, distressed, or over-whelmed.
Older people come to mind because October 7th is National Ageism Awareness Day. And for a good reason do we take note of this —- ageism is alive and well in the United States. I have written about this before. While working in the Office for the Aging, I was well-informed via seniors themselves, and considerable research from NYS Office for the Aging. And now that am in the category of Older Americans, I have observed the bias first-hand. It is blatant and wide-spread. There is little societal respect for wisdom and experience. Seniors are ignored in advertising (unless it is for insurance) and subtly blamed in the media, for no longer being youthful. Mobility, physical appearance and their thinking is often mocked or disregarded. So, as a result, many people go to ridiculous lengths to retain their youthful looks. There is nothing wrong with looking our best, but some back-to-youth procedures are both dangerous and very expensive. Being comfortable with the signs of aging, is rare.
Perhaps this youth-oriented culture stems from our history; it was young adults who, having little future in Europe, took a chance on the “new world.” As with any pioneering effort, there was a necessity for youthful optimism, daring and strength. Perhaps we’ve never gotten over that visual of who we are. We forget that as s the young Washington, the young Franklin, the young Adams grew old and they still helped the nation to grow. For eons, other cultures have esteemed dignity, wisdom and understanding. Elders are deeply respected, valued, and consulted. We, here in the U.S.A, need to realize that ageism is out of step with reality, and out of date! In addition to missing out on valuable abilities in those of some age, it leaves older adults feeling useless and disconnected from the rest of society, rather like how those “lost boys” must feel. No matter what our age, our status, or our IQ, everyone has a gift to share. Think about this; affirm this, especially think on this Saturday, October 7th
Of course, we all feel lost or helpless sometimes. I contemplate being in my eighties, and there are many questions for my days, and potential changes awaiting decisions. Right along with those cortisone shots and flu vaccines, I’d like some shots of energy and wisdom — ample servings of all, please! I took a difficult step recently. Because of my vision, I gave away all my sewing fabric. There was a packed blanket chest plus several shelves-full —- hundreds of dollars represented by those cottons, silks, velvets, woolens and synthetics. In addition to losing my enjoyment of having the fabric, for me, they are like pieces of art. This also meant that I was conceding the possibilities of creating those items I had designed in my head. It is one more set of dreams and expectations erased. I am glad that the erasure was by my own hand; too often these decisions are made by someone else, in a time of crisis. Deciding when to make changes takes thought, resolution, and good timing. We should not wait too long.
Even in painful changes, though, there are gifts; I have found a curious sense of freedom in giving things away. It brings an unexpected lightness of spirit. It helps to know that some of those fabrics will make beautiful hand bags, some will be used to teach others how to sew, some have already been used on the large creche figures that go outside our church at Christmas. The person who was refreshing those wooden figures, created beautiful robes for Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men. My fabric has been liberated from the depths of my blanket chest to live happily in the daylight, and, at Christmas time, under the stars, for the whole community to enjoy.
I am reminded of a recent sermon. In our pastor’s absence (she’s back! Ta-Da!), we had interesting, and occasionally, unusual (for Presbyterians) speakers; unusual in delivery of their thoughts, not their theology. One Sunday the speaker, who had been with us before, was unusually inspired to make what he was saying, resonate; he seemed determined to reach the outer limits of the village and maybe beyond, with his message. I generally do not sit comfortably through loud, but I felt that the content was worth enduring the resounding decibels. He spoke of musing on his bucket list, and his list was quite creative; he wanted to do some really cool things. But, during his prayer time alone, he “awoke” and told himself — and us — to stop focusing on bucket lists for ourselves and spend more time living as light-bearers to the darkness of the world. Move from being self-centered to being open-hearted. I think everyone there got the message loud and clear that we can have a good time and experience wonderful things, but if we really want to change the world, it is necessary to concentrate on sharing ourselves to make it a lighter more joyful planet. I am reminded of the Peter, Paul & Mary’s Chanukah song — “Light One Candle”.* Perhaps that needs to become the anthem of light-bearers — to never let that light go out.
Time is flying both eschatologically (according to that pastor) and literally. A few weeks ago, Kerm and I were canning tomato juice. A series of hot, sunny days the week before ripened them nicely. And suddenly the heat wave turned to chilly nights, and we were contemplating morning fires in the wood stove. This week, summer-warm temperatures have returned, but won’t last long. Quick changes! The garden tomatoes are done; only digging potatoes and carrots remains. On sunny, mild days, I wander around the gardens, planning for next year —- a few more lily bulbs and tulips laced with moth balls to discourage the voracious voles. On October’s chill and rainy days, I’ll put a pot of soup on the stove, and plan for coming holidays.
Every month has its beauty, but in October, the colors and end-of-season changes are dramatic. If we think about it, people also have their individual beauty; some readily visible and some a bit harder to discover. Just as opals glow and spark with inner lights, so will people if we look deeply enough. Awareness is a good quality to develop. From the nostalgic scent of fallen leaves and the energy brought by cooler breezes, to the smiles and stories of those with whom we spend time. October, seems an especially good moment (in the wider sense of time) to be alive. I hope that its light shines into your life, where it will be reflected back to those whose lives you touch!
Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*”Light One Candle”—written by Peter, Paul & Mary for their 25th anniversary concert.