Late last November I went for a run beside a frozen Charles River. Suddenly I came across a maple tree that blazed gold in the sunlight, vivid against the satin blue water. It stood as tall and as proud as the nearby towers of Boston University.
This is hardly the time for such a brilliant display of fall colors, I thought, as I zipped my sweat suit a little tighter and went closer to examine the tree. I looked up through its branches toward the cold blue sky and realized that I had been enjoying the fall colors for more than seven weeks - not just the two weeks or so normally regarded as "peak." Were some rules being broken here?
A few days earlier a nurseryman had told me that no one has yet satisfactorily explained why some autumns are more beautiful in New England than others. Is it the rainfall, the timing of the first frosts? He remarked on a favorite maple near his office door: "For ten years it's been yellow every fall. This year, it's a blaze of scarlet. Explain that!"
It occurs to me that there's a lesson to be learned here. We don't need to be trapped by seasons - by human calendars of birth, growth, maturity, decline.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, wrote about this in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Time-tables of birth and death are so many conspiracies against manhood and womanhood.... Man, governed by immortal Mind, is always beautiful and grand. Each succeeding year unfolds wisdom, beauty, and holiness" (pg. 246).
In a "Connections" column in this newspaper on November 22, the writer suggested that stereotypes tarnish what are often called the golden years. There's a constant duel, she said, between New Images and Old Stereotypes. "When the subject is retirement and aging, conflicting views abound."
A growing number of current retirees are already "shattering stereotypes portraying retirement as a time of inactivity and withdrawal. And already baby boomers are putting the country on notice that they plan to redefine retirement - maybe by not retiring at all."
Clearly, we don't have to catch old age as though it were a contagious disease. Instead, it's possible to newly consider, every day, the spiritual truth that our life is established by and lovingly sustained by God. Our big goal should be to stop thinking in terms of mortality - with its predictable stages - and to start devoting ourselves to enjoying the perpetual development of spiritual life.
Who couldn't think more about developing spiritual qualities like patience and charitableness, for example? Expanding our sense of life's possibilities this way frees us for buoyant spiritual activity. Spiritual development can't be interrupted, or deprived of the freshness and spontaneity that characterize its divine source. Here's one unequivocal promise from the Bible: "Thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning" (Job 11:17).
Many people have found that their energy increases as their mental and physical activity becomes more spiritually focused. Instead of decline, they experience greater vigor and alertness. It should be no surprise that in God's kingdom there are no seasons. No fluctuations. No ill effects. No lethargy. No indolence. Energy is never lost in futile indecision or mental idleness.
Before I'd completed that run through the brisk November air, I was feeling much better not only about myself but about the seasons. That delightfully independent tree, seemingly unaware of human timetables, was helping to correct my preconceptions and misperceptions of so many aspects of growth and longevity.
Confirmations of my "sermon in nature" appeared with each stride I took. I found late-blooming primroses, petunias, geraniums, marigolds, and the most exquisite roses in several riverside gardens. I resolved to leave stereotyping behind. To break free of any laws not inspired and perpetuated by the seasonless goodness of God.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society