Domestic Disturbances: Impermanence and the End of Summer

Accepting change might be the key to surviving old age. Chrysanthemums help.

Blooming chrysanthemums help ease the transition from summer to fall. – Wikimedia Commons

The fish are jumping at Cape Pogue Pond, breaking the surface of the still water for a quick glimpse of the world above, where I lay on a short stretch of sandy beach, soaking up the last rays of the summer sun. I’m greedy for these softer, quieter days of September, with time for doing nothing more than watching fish jump. Summer is too hot and busy for the beach, but in September I spend as much time there as possible. Who knows which day might be the last day of summer — or life, for that matter?

Many years ago a friend gave me a T shirt with this slogan written on it: Impermanence makes all things possible. Back then I didn’t really understand what it meant. As I get older I’m understanding it more, but part of me still protests: Why can’t things, people, places I love stay the way they were when I fell in love with them? I don’t need all things to be possible.

Why can’t life always be a day at the beach? (Although not necessarily this day, which has three kinds of insects vying for my blood.) Why do I hang on so to my idea of how things should be? It seems the opposite of living in the moment, something to which I aspire. I find late summer a nostalgic time, with so many people leaving the Island. I’m happy to have the Island less crowded, but all those goodbyes make me sad. Still, what could be more perfect than pondering life’s imperfections while lying on the beach on an amazing, maybe last, day of summer – even with biting insects?

The impending loss of all that is summer also reminds me of what I like about fall, about renewed energy and all the changes that season brings. I’ve been itching to make a list of some kind. Here are the things I’m looking forward to this fall:

  • Being done with the harvest
  • Eating breakfast at the table with the sun coming in the southeast windows again
  • The insistent, radiating heat from the attached greenhouse when the house temp gets below 65º
  • The autumn colors of the leaves and marsh grass, the crisp blue sky and ocean
  • Kayaking on the still pond early in the morning, with no bugs, when the warmth of the sun feels extra-special

As we leave summer for fall, on our way to winter, I think of how nature’s seasons reflect the seasons in our lives. In the fall, we make preparations for winter — preserving food, getting fuel for heating the house, tightening windows, shutting down the summer spaces, putting away the hammock and summer clothes. Then comes a time for more interior activities, or even nonactivity. When winter comes, whatever those preparations were, they are done now, or not. Whatever should have been done in a warmer, younger time will probably not be done now. It’s time to allow life take its course more, a time to ride it out, to let go of trying so hard to accomplish things. That was the past; this is now. Now it’s time to take a look around, see what’s here, where you are now, to appreciate the small things, the ordinary, that gather themselves around you as you let them. Winter and old age — you just prepare the best you can and then winter it as you will.

I was reminded of how the ordinary becomes special last fall when my pink, single-petal chrysanthemums started blooming. I first saw them long ago on a day my mother was tending them in her flower garden. At the time, she said how much she liked them and, probably, which ancient relative or friend she’d gotten them from. I thought they were unimpressive. Years later, I got to like them better, and took some for my garden. Eventually I began to look forward to the perky blooms with their pink petals and yellow centers (a combination of colors I’ve come to love), the last flowers of the season in my garden. I’ve passed them on to my daughter and others on the Island. They remind me of my mother, and conjure up her living presence in a way that a photo can’t.

I’ve always thought that the reason the sharper edges of my parents seemed to smooth in old age was because they lived a simpler life of tending home, garden, and selves, cooking, eating, and cleaning up. The striving to do good in the world had simmered down more to a level of just being good — less effortful, more peaceful, more satisfied with themselves and the world.

Note to myself: Routines change. Allow them to. Impermanence makes all things possible.

For old age, like for winter, I want to feel not too worried, somewhat prepared, given that all cannot be known. Will it be a freezing, snowy winter: disabled, sickly old age? Am I prepared? What would preparations be? There are all the considerations of the material world, but what about how I’ll accept what comes my way, how I’ll continue to find joy? How will I keep from being so set in my ways that I can’t accommodate what’s outside my routine or comfort zone? How will I accept the ongoing loss of family, friends, my capabilities?

Accepting loss seems to be the key to surviving old age, to surviving life at all. Accepting change, accepting winter. Accepting loss.

Or at least means that summer is coming to an end, for this year.