For everything there is a season and a time for everything under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1
My back has gotten cranky. It’s stiff when I get up in the morning and doesn’t like me to slouch, which is my favorite position. That’s all I’m going to say about it, since I promised myself I wouldn’t spend an essay on the seasons of life writing about getting old, which is officially my current season. The only thing I’ll add is that my back problems are probably related to an OFI (Old Football Injury) incurred during my glory days on the high school football team. But that will also be the last time I regale you with heroic tales from my younger years. If old people were honest, they’d admit that the only interesting stories are the ones they won’t tell you.
Truthfully, now that I’m transitioning from fall into winter, I’m tired of the whole seasons of life sequencing model. It’s very similar to Erik Erikson’s developmental stages, according to which I am now struggling with integrity versus despair, as I spend my time ruminating about the past and deciding whether to feel proud or ashamed of myself. With apologies to Erikson, I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager.
Understanding our lives as seasonal is an ancient concept, reflecting the sequences seen in nature, but for the ancients those sequences were circular. They repeated, in the same way a woman’s menstrual cycle reflected the lunar cycle. Twenty-nine days and you get to do it again.
In modern times, the principle of circularity is generally ignored. Like Erikson, we tend to think in linear fashion, as in someday you won’t have to do this again. You advance from one phase to another, such as from monthly periods to hormone replacement therapy, or, in my case, retirement.
Since advancement implies progress, and progress is defined as good, modern folk are also in a hurry. Believing the next stage will be better, we like to move things along. When I was an anxious teenager, I couldn’t wait to be an adult. Beer would be legal; I’d live on my own. However, when I reached adulthood, my anxieties didn’t magically resolve themselves. They grew bigger, having assumed responsibilities for other anxious humans.
Essentially, I hurried myself along only to find more of the same. The difference between adolescence and adulthood is not much, if you simply consider the basics: insecurity, fear, desperation. The same situations and issues repeat themselves, just in a different context, as if on a seasonal basis. Since we’re in the process of simplifying the seasons down to just one—summer—perhaps it’s advisable to consider the ancient wisdom that our lives are a series of cycles, as opposed to a series of graduation dates.
The most famous exposition of life’s seasons is found in a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, otherwise known as Turn, Turn, Turn, a song made famous by The Byrds, a favorite from the springtime my youth. (I will no longer reference 60s era rock bands.) It will be noticed that none of the provided examples of seasonal stuff only happen once in a lifetime; they recur, over and over. There have been times I experienced all of them in a week.
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Not that I understood any of this, being intent on progressing from one messy stage to the next. Eventually (meaning after a significant expenditure of my available years), it dawned on me that I’d done all of this before. As we’re told in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. The same choices roll back around. The specifics change, but not the underlying cycles, with their times to plant and harvest, to break down and build up, to seek and lose, to weep and laugh, to be silent and to talk. Wisdom lies in knowing the right times for each.
Since wisdom is advice about how life is best lived, there are practical applications for salubrious seasonal living.
1. Relationships: there’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
This verse does not refer to PDA. In the author’s day, the answer was not much. The sage is concerned with the balance between closeness and space in our relationships. All of our relationships are a negotiation between the two, even if they are usually governed by social formalities. Those social formalities also allow for transgression. Being overly dependent or uninvolved causes problems. A connection based on sex has a poor prognosis.
The resulting imbalances are why this teaching also concerns the choice to maintain or end a relationship. Many people persist in relations long after the harvests are meagre and the smart thing to do is replant. Sometimes relationships, even important ones, edge into winter and die. On the other hand, to keep a good relationship, release whatever interferes. Very few personal bonds last for a lifetime. Cherish the ones that do. Otherwise, when the time comes, mourn the loss and get back to the dance.
2. Emotions: a time to weep, and a time to laugh.
Humans are an emotional species, but we often lack what psychologists call emotional intelligence. People don’t recognize what they feel. For many men, anger is the most common emotion, even though anger is triggered by fear, which the same men commonly deny. It’s hard to deal with the source of the anger when we don’t let ourselves acknowledge the fear. Ask them what they’re afraid of and they’ll likely get angry.
Men are unlikely to cry for the same reason. Before we can weep, we have to get over our fear of doing it. It’s like throwing up, and who enjoys that?
There’s wisdom in understanding that emotions not expressed do not simply disappear. They hang around and ferment, like one of the demons in the Conjuring movies, which sooner or later find a way to get loose and wreak havoc. Better to express what we feel at the time we feel it and move on.
3. Existential Stuff: a time to be born, and a time to die
Birth isn’t a once and done thing. (See previous essay, “Being Born.”) Acting in tune with the cyclical seasons inevitably leads to change. We lose leaves and grow new ones. Sometimes significant personal revision becomes necessary, and the necessary revisions can feel like a type of death. But there are times for dying, for the shedding of our skin, in a cycle with rebirth.
Generally, we don’t look forward to a death experience, but it’s best to keep our eyes open and prepare ourselves. To avoid dying is to be profoundly stuck, because life will probably require several deaths before you get to the last one.
4. Hope: a time to keep silence and a time to speak
If you don’t get a decision right the first time, pay attention, because the choice will roll around again. We all make mistakes. Wisdom is found by learning from them, so we don’t make the same one twice.
Picture of daisy by firstname.lastname@example.org from Pixabay
Picture of circular time by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Picture of faces by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay
Picture of butterfly by Kei Rothblack from Pixabay