Today is the Autumn Equinox and we enter my favorite half of the year. These days have been marked by a heaviness here at the Abbey though. My mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s has been declining rapidly as of late. And in the last couple of weeks our sweet old dog Tune has developed canine cognitive dysfunction, which essentially leads to increased confusion, anxiety, and distress, similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. She is on medication now which is helping, but still the signs are there. The anniversary of my own mother’s death is less than a month away. As fall begins its brilliant journey I am being thrust into the messiness of life.
Autumn holds me to this path, it calls me to honor the full spectrum of human experience, to not push away the sorrow and grief, to not fill the waiting with distractions. I rest into the unknown, the not-yet knowing when an end will come for my beautiful mother-in-law, or when we will be called upon to bring an end for Tune’s suffering.
While the contemplative life cultivates peace, it also means being affected by the deep grief of living and loving. It means allowing my heart to break again and again. Being a monk in the world means I show up fully for whatever life brings me. I make space to feel all of its contours. I embrace the fullness of my very human life. And in my capacity to do this for myself, I can be present to others in their suffering as well.
Autumn offers solace with her unbearable beauty. But some days, the wind gusts through and the trees are stripped bare. I weep at the ache I feel when I consider how everything I love in this world will one day die. The season calls me to let go of false assumptions, wrests my too-small images of God from me as I enter the Mystery of dying and rising. Autumn demands that I release what I think is important to do and return to the only thing which matters that I remember – to love and to allow love to sculpt me, even as it breaks my heart.