by Beth Rodenhouse
I just walked outside into our central courtyard at Pilgrim Manor, a retirement community in Grand Rapids, Mich., and joined community members soaking up the warm rays of the fall sun. I cannot believe the leaves are already falling, smelling of spicy earthiness, with deep hints of life. It is strange that dead leaves smell like life, but they do. They have a beauty to them, colors more gold and brown, with just a hint of orange this year. I love fall, mainly because it is such a visual smorgasbord.
But I do not just celebrate fall. In some ways, my feelings are bittersweet. I also mourn fall. It means that summer has ended and winter is on its way. It reminds me that time is passing, no matter what I do to hold it back. That life is changing. But that is part of the beauty of fall, is it not? Fall says life is change. Fall reminds me that life has a fragility to it, and that is what makes life precious. Each moment becomes precious because it is unique, passing and experienced only once.
I lead a group of older adults in singing and praying each week in our healthcare center. Most of them sit in wheelchairs. Many of them struggle with memory issues, not to mention a myriad of other health concerns. All of them are older than me by 30 or 40 years. I’m 52, and all of them celebrate eight or nine decades of life. Because we often need one another to help our perspective, we always begin with what we are thankful for, and as the residents begin to talk, I feel like they are my teachers.
Betty is thankful for good health, even as she sits in her wheelchair and receives hospice services. And I marvel at her perspective because her notion of good health is so different from mine. And then Ada says she is thankful “for life; it’s such a gift.” Yet she cannot remember what happened yesterday. But their gratitude is real, as is their wisdom. Each person has weathered challenges, failures and successes throughout their many years. But their years have taught them that life itself is precious, regardless of pain and the challenges of aging. They teach me to broaden my perspective and rejoice both in spring’s budding new leaves and fall’s fragile old leaves, dropping through the air. Both new life and old life are equally precious and equally good.
When we talk about love, we sometimes talk about “falling in love.” When I met my husband Lucas, I fell in love, and I felt delirious with happiness and love. Life glowed with light and beauty. These older adults I’m privileged to serve strike me as being as delirious as I was when I fell in love. But what they are in love with is not just a person, but with life itself. For them, each day, each year, each decade has made them fall in love with life. They see life glowing around them and in them, because they have grown in wisdom and wonder. Being older has made them wiser, and I want their perspective, so that as I age, I fall in love with life and learn to celebrate it in whatever fashion it comes my way.