The Seasons of Life

“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980)

Another glorious fall is here–transitioning us from muggy summer days to the crisp chill of autumn. Each year, when this season evolves, I reflect on the transitions of life, and I’ll share some of these thoughts with you this week. The natural beauty in colorful leaves simultaneously heralds a spectacular end of one season and an uncertain beginning to another. As in life, the transition elicits mixed emotions. Will the winter be a long and harsh one? Will I long for the summer warmth when February brings snow to the streets of Nashville and paralyzes the city? Huddled near the fireplace on a frosty winter night, will I once again reflect on the meaning of life and the fate of youthful dreams? Opportunities for introspection occur throughout the year, but it’s the autumn transition that provides the metaphor for life.

When you reflect on your own life, what transitions have the greatest significance? For me, all pivotal transitions have involved eitherMotion, or Gains, or Losses, or a combination of these characteristics. We moved several times during my early childhood and finally settled in Atlanta, Georgia just before my ninth birthday. Each of those moves took me from friends and familiar playgrounds, but their transitional significance paled in comparison to the voice, body and emotional changes that heralded adolescence. Subsequent memorable transitions involved the move toward independence. Away from the watchful eyes of parents, college challenged me with new personal responsibilities, new friends, and new anxieties for the future.

For most of us, the continuum of career perpetuates a certain motion, though velocity fluctuates. And, during that course, the transitions of partnering or marriage, and parenting, and evolving physical and mental capacities are significant. . .sometimes joyous; sometimes sobering. One loses a body that’s ever-forgiving and a mind that’s as ‘sharp as a tack.’ The invincibility of youth is tempered by the cautions of aging. Friends are distanced (or lost) and gained as geographical locations change. And, along the way, pivotal people die. “When you’re 50 you start thinking about things you haven’t thought about before. I used to think getting old was about vanity–but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial.” Joyce Carol Oates 1989

We intentionally effect some transitions while others occur involuntarily. Throughout our lives, we witness major social and technological advances that change the world for all people. And simultaneously, our personal transitions alter our space and perspective in this larger picture. Transitions reward us with experience and stimulation. . .sometimes even a rejuvenation. Though every transition begins with an ending, the fresh challenges can fuel renewed enthusiasm and great deeds.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot (Little Gidding in Four Quartets)

Celebrate the transition of this season with me. Reflect on where you have been and where you are going. And remember, each season brings its own special contributions to our lives.

The Death of Leaves
The Death of Leaves is a Glorious Sight
As Mornings Crispen, the Beginning
Simmers a Subtle Change in Color

And then, as if by Magic, Trees Explode
In Reds, and Oranges, and Bright Yellow Hues
A Celebration of Transition, Dying Leaves
Dress the Sky in Natural Jewels

Too Soon, the Visual Treat is Gone
In Just Days, the Colorful Palette Fades. . .
The Leaves Relinquish their Delicate Hold on Life
And Sift Quietly Away

I, Who Deal Too Much with Death in My Role as Physician
Am Always Grateful to the Fall Leaves for their Comfort
While Treating Us All
To the Visual Brilliance of the Process,
They Remind Me that Death is But a Transition
From One Season to Another

How Appropriate that They Leave Bare Branches
Reaching, Like Arms, Toward Heaven.

Stephen L. Hines, M.D. October 28, 1995

Stephen L. Hines, M.D.
October 2000