“I’ll be 9, which is almost 10, which is practically a teenager…so don’t call me little…”
That is how some of the conversation at our house has gone recently.
“Whoa! Slow down there partner, you’re still 8 right now, and you will never have the chance to be 8 years old again, so make sure you REALLY enjoy these next couple of days. And when you turn 9, don’t rush into teenager. Enjoy being 9; it only comes around once in a lifetime.”
My daughter’s birthday month got off to an early start when she received her birthday card from the Green Bay Packers on October 31. Finally, an organization that appreciates November with the same enthusiasm as my daughter!
Typically we don’t get excited about November. It’s that brown month between the captivating color change and crisp fall air of October and the lights, tinsel and snow of December. The harvest is in. The fields are barren; the birds have migrated, and the snow has not yet covered the earth in its white winter blanket.
November is the month of naked trees, early nightfall, and frosty mornings. It’s monochromatic. In the United States, the even the major holiday in November, Thanksgiving, is primarily black, white and brown—harkening to pilgrims, turkeys, and a harvest brought in.
At first glance it is a plain month, a quiet month, a slow month.
Back in September when I ordered my daughter’s Halloween costume, the end of October seemed an eternity away, but it’s here now. Crop dust fills the air now, creating orange, pinks, and purple-greys at twilight against which the newly naked trees find themselves silhouetted. No longer do colorful songbirds hide among leafy branches, instead giant ravens perch on spindly branches cawing their “Nevermore” warning. The wind blows in change.
The gray clouds lay low in the sky, completely saturated, as if they might burst any minute, with wisps of tattered scud torn from them, grazing the clay roofs of the university buildings. It was fall in Austin, Texas. Hordes of grackles swarmed from tree to tree along the sidewalk, cackling and calling—turning the sky from gray to black as they moved, like something from Hitchcock’s The Birds.
On a corner, perched atop an overturned crate, the spindly, unshaven form of an itinerant street preacher stood incongruous against the backdrop bicycles, backpacks and jeans and t-shirts that passed around him. Perhaps he had been ostracized from a Puritan community and blown into the late 20th century with the somber weather. He held a well-worn black book up toward the sky in one hand, his tattered jacket flapped in the almost-wet wind. His thin voice carried above of the cawing grackles to anyone who would listen.
We condemn in others that which we hate most about ourselves.
Now, I’ve had a lot of school, and church, and church-school since that day. While I was finishing up my PhD in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I crossed the railroad tracks on campus and studied at the theology school. I taught in a pilot high school ethics course in inner city Atlanta. I participated in a clinical pastoral education experience for laity at the university hospital, and I studied enough New Testament Greek to be able to poorly translate something about thousands of demented pigs running down a hill. And, as a college professor, I teamed up with the chair of our religious studies department to teach a capstone seminar course in science and religion.
Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the day. Perhaps I was in my 20s, away from home for the first time in any significant way and homesick and impressionable. Perhaps it was street preacher’s 1741 Johnathan Edwards delivery style. I don’t know, but that line has stuck with me, and as our society becomes more polarized and more judgmental, it continues to stick.
Fall is in the air. Darkness greets me when the alarm goes off in the mornings now, and the desire to snuggle in a warm blanket, sip on an aromatic cup of coffee and watch the sunrise in quiet comfort is almost irresistible.
The landscape is decorated with gold and crimson—soybeans turning golden brown, golden rod in full bloom, sumac plants with their crimson leaves, and red and orange rose hips and hawthorn berries color my days.
Migrating geese and cranes and cackling turkeys provide the sound track for the day. Crickets and cicadas perform a twilight symphony each evening to bring summer to a close. Stars sparkle in the clear night sky, and Orion becomes prominent in the sky—the hunter returning as autumn approaches.
I love this time of year. There are apple orchards to visit, hikes to take, fall color change to anticipate and watch. The days are clear and crisp. The air is clean and fresh. I can inhale deeply, sigh and be at peace with the changing world around me.
And, there’s one more important thing about this time of year.