A few years ago, our family suffered a terrible continuum of disease and death – my wife’s grandparents, her aunt, my estranged father – a seemingly unending flow of bad news, each separated by mere months rather than years.
We were living in Scotland at the time and I can remember one day in particular after I dropped my wife off at the Edinburgh Airport to fly back to attend to family matters after one of of the events. I had too many responsibilities to attend to and couldn’t travel with her – so on a dreary Sunday morning, I wandered around the streets of Edinburgh, thinking, trying to gain some perspective and ruminating about life, death and the things men and women do to each other in between.
As are many fall days in Scotland, there was a bone-chilling dampness in the air. As I meandered through Prince’s Street Gardens at the base of Edinburgh Castle, a cold drizzle started to fall. Edinburgh can be such a dreary place in the rain. There is so much stone and granite, the wetness blends the landscape and the sky into a monolithic, monotone gray mass. I can remember looking over the landscape and wondering if God was thinking, “Let it burn – time to start again anyway.”
I remember thinking how heartsick I was…about our personal losses, the losses in our country, our declining status in the world – but mostly thinking that I’m heartsick for our people…and our sins. As I thought about the world my children would inherit – a world full of acrimony and without the love of the people we had lost over the short few years, I must admit that I was angered about the changes and the constantly evolving world that was being altered by fate without my permission.
People whom I loved were gone – and due to my selfish choices, I wasn’t there to comfort them as they left. I was half a world away.
It is my belief that we all reach this point at times. We all experience the low winter sun. It’s akin to that feeling of loss we experience as we pass the summer solstice and the sun starts to sink low in the winter sky. Almost impossible to quantify, yet the feeling of sadness for things lost is omnipresent.The shadows are longer, the light is muted and the landscape is exhibiting dormancy and death. Even at midday in a clear sky, our celebrated star gives no warmth. Old Sol is keeping his heat in reserve, preferring to bestow it on other planets that better deserve it. It is the chill, drab, soulless feeling that comes from knowing that the warmth and renewal of the spring is so, so very far away.
These thoughts sent me to a very lonely, despondent, hopeless place.
But as I circled back to our flat on Great King Street, the rain began to subside and the sun began to break through. As dreary as Edinburgh can be in the rain, it is just that resplendent in the sunshine. Within the hour, the sky had largely cleared and as I turned the corner from India Street, a vista opened up to a small park within the bounds of Royal Circus. Dead in the center of that park stood an amazing vision, a tree regally cloaked in beautiful yellow foliage surrounded by others yet to succumb to the call to dormancy they would eventually hear. It was as if all the trees surrounding the one in the center were bowing to its beauty, admiring it as it prepared for a long winter’s sleep.
That vision shocked me back to reality and out of my self-pity. It reminded me that life is transient and time is precious. It reminded me that life is something to be celebrated and not something to lament or to fear. It reminded me that there is a natural order to things – children are born to become parents and grandparents and to die, only to be replaced by better versions of ourselves as we imbue our own progeny with our love and learnings. Sooner or later, we are all the tree with the yellow leaves, surrounded by those who reverently attend to us as we transition into another state of being.
I was taught something that day. Death is not the end. There is beauty and purpose in life. Spring will come.
I smiled as I walked the remaining cobblestone streets home.