This past weekend marked the passing of the autumnal equinox, as summer officially ended, and we moved into the fall season. From hereon in, the days will get shorter and the nights longer as we approach another winter.
Throughout history, there have been many writers and thinkers who have drawn parallels between the earth’s seasons, and the passage of one’s lifespan on this earth. Like spring, when new life breaks forth from the cold clutches of winter, each of us experiences birth and miraculous growth as a child and youth as we prepare ourselves for adulthood. Adulthood can then be viewed as the summer season of life, when we are most productive and where the major focus becomes the further propagation of our species and creating the optimal conditions for that purpose. Once that has been achieved, we move into the “golden years” of our lives, our human autumn, when hopefully we can rest and enjoy the fruits of our labour. That is then followed by our inevitable winter, when life once again becomes recycled – “ashes to ashes, and dust to dust”.
All of this has become increasingly relevant to me as I enter my own personal autumn. Having spent some seven decades on this earth, social norms would typically relegate me to the ranks of the “seniors”, people whose productive lives are generally considered to be in the past tense. Yet, I am not particularly eager to give up on the “summer” season of my life. It will be some time yet before I consider acquiring a rocking chair and spend my time reminiscing about past glories.
Borrowing on the metaphor of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, I have extended his construct to include human aging, which to me is also “relative”. Much as Einstein postulated that time slows down the faster we move, so too for me, my perception of aging slows down the faster I approach the ultimate limit of my existence. For me, in the “autumn” of my life, I am ageing far slower than previously in my life. To be sure, my physical self, my corporeal body continues its inevitable slow deterioration, but the spiritual or conscious part of what makes me who I am has hopefully reached a kind of stable maturity and state of quantum wisdom that perceives the passage of time with equanimity rather than fear or regret.
In all of this I find reassurance in the fact that history shows us that creativity and achievement need not be tied to one’s physical age. Historical records abound of people who did great things in the so-called “autumn” of their lives. Pablo Picasso created no fewer than 347 works of art at the age of 87. The famous American artist known as Grandma Moses did not start painting until she was 76. J.R.R. Tolkein published his first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the age of 62. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” began her publishing career at the age of 64. Peter Mark Roget published Roget’s Thesaurus at the age of 73. Joe Biden became President of the U.S. at the age of 78. Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa at the age of 75. Colonel Sanders did not start building his KFC restaurant empire until the age of 65. Noah Webster published his seminal work, the American Dictionary of the English Language, at the age of 70. George Burns, the famous American comedian, was still performing well into his nineties. Canadian athlete, Ed Whitlock, became the oldest person to run a marathon in under three hours at the age of 69. Clint Eastwood is still acting and directing films even though he is in his nineties. Dr. Anthony Fauci spearheaded the American response to the COVID epidemic even though he was already in his eighties at the time. All this implies to me that when it comes to human achievement, there is no “autumn” in our lives, when we cease to be productive in our creative, life-affirming endeavours.
In Ukrainian tradition, there is a concept called “babyne lito”, the equivalent of what we in North America call Indian Summer, which describes a period of summerlike weather after the first frosts of autumn and approaching winter have appeared. I firmly believe that I am into my own personal “babyne lito” when it comes to exercising my talents and potential. To steal a phrase from the poet Dylan Thomas: “I will not go gentle into that good night!”