For just a few weeks of the year, our world looks stunningly different. During most of the year the trees are either bare or green. But for a short time, autumn showcases them with vivid golds and reds, dark browns and yellows. We take trips just to "see the leaves." Their beauty beckons us to go out for a walk and experience their impact.
Leaves are the most beautiful at their finale, for they have fulfilled the reason for their existence. It's as if they're crowned and celebrated. They were taken for granted throughout the long summer, but come autumn we can't help being attracted to their presence.
It should be true of humans, too, that the seasons of our lives lead somewhere, toward a beauty, a completion, and a culmination when we have fulfilled the reason for our existence. "The reason for our existence"--just what is that? Leaves exist to collect nutrients, produce oxygen, and so on, to support the life of the tree and the environment. What is the reason for human existence? To collect a lot of money? To become a celebrity, gain power over others, or stay young-looking forever? To get a degree or become famous? What is that purpose which, if we attain it, means that we have fulfilled the reason for our existence, and if we miss it, that we have failed? The purpose of a knife is to cut, the purpose of a wristwatch is to keep time; what is the purpose of a human?
Psychologists say that we are here to develop from a state of self-centeredness to altruism, from being in orbit around only ourselves to going out of orbit and touching positively the lives of others. Spiritually, we say the same thing. We are here to learn how to love. Saint Paul made this point so eloquently in his letter to the early Christians in the town of Corinth. He told them that their lives would be only like sounding brass and tinkling symbals unless they learned how to love, that even faith and good works meant nothing without love. An old, anonymous spiritual adage says, "When the evening of this life comes, we will all be judged on love." When we reach our final season, love is what will make us more beautiful than autumn leaves. Humans are made to be lovers.
The autumn colors come gradually, not all at once. That's also true of love. We start life with such a pull toward self-centeredness. An infant is the center of its world. When hungry, a baby cries out, expecting parents to respond. Concern for others is beyond the capability of an infant. We grow beyond infancy, of course, and over a lifetime, over many seasons, we learn to love. As we grow and develop psychologically and spiritually, we come to realize that others have needs and feelings, too. And if love begins, we freely choose to give of ourselves to another. And if those choices to give of ourselves to others go on and on, we slowly become what we are choosing--we become loving, successful human beings.
We don't have to have loving people pointed out to us. We instinctively recognize them, just as we readily notice the leaves of autumn. Loving people have a sense of trueness or authenticity about them. They don't point themselves out, they just are what they are.
Winter is a time of solitude, silhouettes, and shadows. Spring is young and free and joyful. Summer is mellow and carefree. But autumn is rich, ripe, and complete; it nostalgically looks back over all that's gone before and is glad. What a way to end the year, or a life!
This article was reprinted from the book Reflections for Living by Fr. Lou Guntzelman. This book is currently out of print, however a few copies can be purchased at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0884895238/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_7WxJsb1VBY54ET1B via @amazon