As the days grow shorter, the pile of leaves grows larger. This is Einstein’s equation for autumn. I know “Energy equals Mass times the speed of Light squared” isn’t really congruent with all those bags of leaves accumulating on the edge of the streets of the front yards in your neighborhood. It just seems that way. When I bought my first little stucco, flat roofed house back in my hometown, the former owners reminded me at closing, “Be sure and rake the roof every autumn.”
Of course I forgot about this, until the twenty something major trees around my little flat roofed house dumped all their leaves on my roof. How did I know? When it rained, those leaves blocked the drainage holes, so water came inside the ceiling light fixtures of my kitchen in the back of the house. As soon as the rain quit, I had the ladder out and was filling the big, black garbage bags with soggy leaves. If you only fill them half way, they’ll stay intact when tossing them over the parapet. I was younger then, and trainable. I didn’t forget when autumn came the next year.
I’ve always thought leaves “fell” off the trees or the wind blew them off, but I asked Mr. Google, “Why do leaves fall?” Turns out, the trees cut them off with scissor cells. The leaves are only useful for making food for the tree. They are the seasonal kitchen staff, so the tree lets them go for the winter and brings in a new crew in the spring. The changing light and cooler temperatures triggers a hormone that makes this happen.
If the leaves stayed on the tree, they’d wake up during a winter warm spell, start their food production work, and then get frozen when the cold inevitably returns. The tree knows the lifespan of the leaf, and this is the natural course of the life cycle. New growth will come in the spring, after a period of rest and recovery.
Our holiday season coincides with darkening days and marketing excess. Most of the commercials show happy families with lots of presents in heavily decorated holiday environments. Statistics show 25% of people are estranged from their families, and one out of every 463 Americans alive at the beginning of 2020 has since died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. About 1 in 8 Americans say that a member of their family died of the virus; another fifth say that they lost a close friend, according to YouGov polling. These are staggering numbers, for in the US alone, 779,293 people have lost their lives as of November 30, 2021. One too many Thanksgiving tables had an empty place setting for a loved one no longer among us, and this will be a blue Christmas for many families.
If this were a war, maybe folks would get all excited and consider good health practices such as mask wearing , hand washing, and vaccinations their patriotic duty. Instead, they throw themselves into the breach of a thousand tiny viruses as if they were seeking the congressional gold medal for valor, and end up leaving their families with nothing but medical bills, grief, and the loss of their presence. Into this weary season comes Omicron, yet another variant, but an expected event due to the lack of worldwide access to vaccines and the virus’s ability to mutate in immunocompromised individuals. The enemy keeps evolving and the battles continue, whether we’re weary of the struggle or not.
“The Falling Leaves,” by Margaret Postgate Cole of England, is one of the first anti-war poems from a woman’s perspective. It was written in November 1915, during the First World War, when from 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields was a major battle theatre on the Western Front. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action there. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond. The tradition of poppies on Veterans Day came from the red flowers given life from the blood spilled on this battlefield. COVID today is exacting it’s own cruel battle toll, with children left orphaned and spouses left without their mates. The adverse affects on this generation may be equal to those who went through the great flu pandemic of 1918 or the Great Depression.
War may be necessary in some instances, but it’s never to be glorified. There’s always a sadness related to the loss of life, regret over the great expense poured out that might have been used to build rather than destroy, and the cruelties that attend actions when we make others into evil enemies and refuse to see them as human as we are. Her poem speaks poignantly to this human loss:
Today, as I rode by, I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree In a still afternoon, When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky, But thickly, silently, They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon; And wandered slowly thence For thinking of a gallant multitude Which now all withering lay, Slain by no wind of age or pestilence, But in their beauty strewed Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.
Source: Margaret Postgate’s Poems (1918)
If we want to treat these end of year days as “days of denial” of all that’s grim in the world to focus only on the good and the light, we’s be like people who claim we have no shadow. Carl Jung believed the shadow included everything in the unconscious mind, good or bad. Also, the shadow might include only the part of the personality that you don’t want to identify as self, but still is a part of your unconscious mind. This dark side of your personality contains everything your conscious mind can’t admit about itself.
When we read the birth story of Jesus, we often focus on the angels and the gifts of the magi. We forget these heavenly hosts are God’s armies and the magi came to meet the new king. These were revolutionary acts that caused King Herod to feel insecure and threatened, so he slaughtered the innocent babies born at this time. The Bible never forgets this shadow side of life, for this is why Christ came into our world:
“to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” ~ Luke 1:79
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” my daddy was fond of saying. We often long for the “way things used to be,” as if the Golden Age of the past was the best of all times. Yet, that past often exists only in our memories, but not in the lived reality of all persons. This is the classic story of the young prince, who while sheltered within the confines of his sumptuous palace never knew want, but once he walked among his people, he saw suffering and need everywhere. Today we know him as the Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama. Many over the centuries have wondered why suffering exists in the world, or why they themselves must suffer. The Buddha saw all life as suffering, or rather our inability to accept the impermanence, change, and dissatisfaction with the present moment.
The Golden Age is a myth and poetic concept, as well as a political and philosophical construct. It began in Greece and was fixed in people’s minds by the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus. The Golden Age is a dream of an “earlier time when people lived peaceful, untroubled lives, and the earth supplied all their wants.” Those who read the Bible can easily find a parallel story in the first humans, who lived in the Garden of Eden. Of all the high and holy days in our cultural calendar, Christmas rates number one for nostalgia, both the personal kind and the universal type.
Nostalgia is the state of being homesick, or a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning, either for the return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. It can be a salve for those who suffer, or it can be more salt poured into an open wound. It just depends on how one frames the experience. We feel “homesick “ in the worst possible way, for we yearn for the security of the familiar and the safe. Mostly we yearn for the people we love and are kin to us.
I remember the year I divorced my husband. It was necessary, for I couldn’t trust him to care for our daughter due to his alcoholism. The first Christmas was hard, for his family chose him and shut me out, as did all his friends. Decorating the Christmas tree was always a family affair in the Golden Age of my memories of Christmas. If this year I had no family, I would bring friends to decorate my tree. Just because I’d always celebrated one way before, I wouldn’t let my circumstances keep me from finding joy this Christmas. I called my young mother friends, invited their families to my home, and we decorated my tree within an inch of its life. It was my best tree ever! And then we ate and drank a toast to our creation. My friends were salve for my suffering, and helped me create a good memory, which still gives me pleasure to this day, four decades later.
Christmas brings families together, but this is a double edged sword. While we all want to be with our families, we also know oil and water don’t mix. After both my parents died, I often ate with some of my clergy pals’ families. I was glad to know they had relatives who also wore their crazy pants to dinner. If I ate with congregation members, they were often on their best behavior, as if I were some sort of god on earth. You’d think after six months at a charge, I’d already have disabused them of that notion, but some people never see your true nature, but only the image of every pastor they’ve ever known before. More often, I’d get pastoral calls of family crises during holiday seasons, so after years of this recurrence, I finally learned to plan for it. I eventually realized we all have a Golden Age of Christmas in our minds, but in real life, we live in the Age of Iron. When reality hits our delusions, the disconnect is palpable. We feel it in our very bones.
For many Americans, images of Victorian Christmases include memories of “children all snug in their beds with their visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads,” which we recognize as one of the opening lines of Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a.k.a. “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” These sugar plums aren’t sugared fruits, but are more like candy covered peanuts or almonds. Jelly beans also are made by this same process. Whatever these treats were, the children dreamed of a world of happiness, sweetness, and delight.
As my Depression Era mother would say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would be kings.” That outlook never stopped me or my brothers from wanting everything in the Sears Christmas catalog, even though we knew these were just suggestions for Santa. Yet we never felt deprived, for whatever we received was a gift, plus it was more than we had before. On Thanksgiving day this year, consumers spent at a pace of at least $3.5 million per minute on line due to stores being closed for the holiday. This year, the average household is pegged to spend $924 for online shopping, more than double the $440 expected for in-store.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) projects November/December retail sales of $843.4 billion to $859 billion, up 8.5% to 10.5% from 2020 results. NRF said its forecast — excluding automobile dealers, gas stations, and restaurants, and covering Nov. 1 to Dec. 31— tops the previous high of $777.3 billion. This total is up 8.2% over 2020, as well as the average gain of 4.4% over the past five years. This increase is in spite of supply chain hiccups, rising gas prices, and the pockets of as yet unvaccinated individuals, who continue to be the greatest number of COVID admissions to our hospitals. It’s as if we’re trying to replace the suffering of our present with presents for those we love. This also accounts for our desire to donate to charities at this season.
Yet the Scrooge of Christmas continues to be COVID, for as an Augusta University Medical analysis released in May of 2021 revealed, which looked at COVID-19 related deaths in vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals—only .8% (150) of vaccinated people accounted for the 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May. If you want to give someone the gift of life this Christmas, take them to the local pharmacy and get them started on their vaccinations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found both infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity are durable for at least six months — but vaccines are more consistent in their protection and offer a huge boost in antibodies for people previously infected. Unfortunately, unvaccinated persons are also the prime hosts in which the virus can mutate, so the Grinch has already brought us the latest variant of concern, Omicron.
This variant was first identified in the South African peninsula, due to their excellent testing facilities. Of course, now the nations of the world have isolated the countries there, so they now feel punished by these bans. Travelers arriving in major world airports already have tested positive for for this variant, so we can expect disruptions and quarantines worldwide to follow. During this holiday season of restoring relationships, COVID keeps breaking our ties instead of rebuilding them.
We can long for the Golden Age of light from our younger days, when our parents took on the big worries so we could have the pleasant memories of an untroubled childhood, or we can fix our sight on the lights of our faith. The great star of the east which announced the birth of Jesus was a pale light compared to “The true light, which enlightens everyone, (which) was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) His was “The light (which) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5).
Our Jewish friends meet the darkness of this Hanukkah season with prayers and menorahs, nightly lighting candles to disperse the darkness of hopelessness against great foes. They remember doing battle against spiritual powers, with God empowering their weakness. God never comes for the strong, but has a special kindness for the poor and weak. This is why we should feel blessed, no matter our personal experience, but especially during the holidays. The ceremony begins on November 28 and ends December 6, since it’s set by the lunar calendar.
So also are these December celebrations light filled: Burning the Yule Log on the 4th, St. Lucia on the 13th, the Winter Solstice on the 21st, Kwanzaa on the 26th, and finally, New Year’s Eve. Our good earth will bring its tilt back towards the sun gradually in the days following the winter solstice. This darkness too shall pass, whether it’s our personal grief or our universal suffering.
We’ll keep walking until we meet the better land beyond the horizon. If this isn’t yet the Golden Age of our memories or the Golden Age of our sugar plumb dreams, let’s work together as we walk to build a better world for all people, “for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)
May you have a mindful holiday, full of joy and peace,
Reckford, Kenneth J. “Some Appearances of the Golden Age.” The Classical Journal, vol. 54, no. 2, The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1958, pp. 79–87, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3294223.
Welcome to September, my rabbit friends! For most all of the bunny world, this means books, pens, pencils, and papers are now our daily tools of the trade instead of our preferred recreational plaything. Even the bunny parents are on the education time table. As I was exiting a lane in the store, I almost crashed my grocery cart into a lady who was racing to finish so she could pick up her darlings when school closed for the day.
Indeed, except for a brief break for Labor Day on Monday, September 6, we’re now living in what we working bunnies call “normal time.” The chronologists may have standard and daylight savings time, the meteorologists their seasonal times, but old school teacher rabbits know the only true time which counts is classroom time. Of course, the best teachers recognize teaching happens all the time, for the best classrooms have no walls and no fixed time for learning. Once rabbits quit learning, they begin to die.
I’ve always pitied the poor rabbit students who thought they could learn everything they needed to know to get them through the rest of their lives after they left the classroom. “Do you think the world is going to stand still just for your benefit?” Often they’d try to argue they didn’t need to know more because they could get a job right of school. They never think about the possibility their jobs might be phased out due to automation or irrelevance.
Then again, perhaps I value education more than the average rabbit. My grandfather worked for fifty years on the railroad, beginning at the tender age of fifteen. Why did he begin so early? His father had abandoned the family, so he worked to help his mother raise the baby rabbits left at home. When his own bunny sons were growing up, he made sure they got an excellent education. They both became doctors. My mother was a teacher and one of my several careers was art teacher.
We live in a time when history is being made daily, but no one seems to remember yesterday because the news media obsess over the latest hot button story. The next day they might have a new focus to fill the hours of coverage and keep our rabbit eyes fixated on the glowing screen. We don’t have to do this, for every tv has a remote to switch the channel and an off button. As a back to school exercise, I thought we might travel back in time when we colonists were in rebellion against the King of England in our War for Independence. So buckle your seatbelts, bunnies, we’re throwing the wayback machine into full reverse. Next stop, 1776 and the War for American Independence.
Most people know our Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, but after that, our historical memories are iffy. In fact, the British had been fighting the colonists since 1775 in various skirmishes, and continued with greater frequency in 1776-1777, with neither side gaining much headway.
In our first war, our fledgling army had lost 6,800 men in battles and another 17,000 to disease. It wasn’t a good time for health care or sanitation. The British captured our young nation’s capital of Philadelphia in September, 1776, but the army and the state militias kept on fighting. The British moved their war efforts to the southern half of their colonies, thinking they’d find loyal supporters there, but none were found.
By December 19, 1777, Washington had decamped to Valley Forge with what was left of his ragtag army. From there, he wrote letters to every state except Georgia to plead for supplies and reinforcements, for without these, he was certain the war would be lost.
This was the first large, prolonged winter encampment the Continental Army endured—nine thousand men were quartered at Valley Forge for a six-month period. During that time, some two thousand American soldiers died from cold, hunger, and disease. About 22% didn’t survive that terrible winter. Perhaps we’re fortunate we didn’t have a 24 hour news cycle to keep a body count, or we’d remember this event as a catastrophe, instead of a “heroic perseverance and endurance under harsh conditions, which only made the survivors stronger.”
It was during this hard time of close confinement, the future president of our country had all the Continental Regular Troops inoculated against the smallpox virus. At the time, 90% of the war casualties were due to disease, so Washington took the bold move to vaccinate the troops. The British troops were already safe from this contagion, and this leveled the playing field.
In 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown after a siege of three weeks, during which the town took heavy bombardment from American and French troops. After six years, both sides were tired of fighting, plus the British had another war back on the continent to deal with. Two years of negotiations later, the United States of America had its recognition among the governments of the world.
If any rabbit tells you winning is easy, and anyone can do it, they aren’t paying attention to history. Yet, we overcame many obstacles, adjusted our courses of action, somehow survived, and became a nation. It’s significant that our nation was founded by people with the historical tradition of a parliamentary form of government. In 1215, King John agreed to Magna Carta, which stated the right of the barons to consult with and advise the king in his Great Council. That’s a full 500 years of shared representation, from which our government takes its form of checks and balances.
Our heroic image was bruised and bloodied over two centuries after the War for Independence when the twin towers fell on 9/11, and the Pentagon was hit by a falling airplane. The only reason we didn’t also lose the White House is because the ordinary passengers of an everyday airline flight suddenly reached down deep and found the hero who lives inside each and every one of us. Some say rabbits are meek and weak, but they don’t know the true heart of the one who will give up his or her life for the sake of another.
We rabbits like our chaos neatly packaged and tied up neatly with a bow. The beginning of every school year has its own chaos, for suddenly rabbit families have to once again be on time, have all their paperwork together, and make sure they don’t leave their brains at home as they rush out the door. After a long lazy summer, we rabbits aren’t in the mood to be reminded of how fragile life can be.
When we watch the scenes unfolding in Afghanistan as people try to emigrate to the United States, we share the collective trauma along with the ones who actually experience it. Add that to our own stress about the unknowns of our current pandemic, our griefs for the losses of those who died, the fears we have for our loved ones, and the extra burdens of cleaning, masking, washing, and scheduling this Covid world now requires, and well, (breathe) it gets a bit much.
But we rabbits have risen to the occasion from time immemorial: we pull together as one, for the good of all. If we live in families, and live in neighborhoods, and live in communities, we find we need to lend a helping hand to others from time to time. Likewise, we band together to protect the vulnerable, whether those are our children, our elderly, or our less abled friends. This is what we call our civic duty, or our moral obligation to do unto others as we’d have them to do for us, or the “golden rule.”
Sometimes we don’t want to work for the common good, but work for our own interests only. We like to win, because it suits our belief about our invincible self. Most of us have been taught a “heroic myth” about our founding fathers, so we aren’t aware of the struggles they endured to wrest our independence from the British. They didn’t do it alone, but together. If the French had not entered the war for independence on our behalf, we might still be singing “Hail to the Queen.” If we’re going through a rough patch now, we have to get our act together and work to make life better for all.
In my bunny life, when I taught art, I soon learned the beginning of school was the time I would lose my car keys, and I wouldn’t be organized enough to cook dinner. Once I raced out of the house without putting underpants on my little girl. Young mother bunnies don’t have access to their entire brain in the first week of school, but at least the kindergarten had a change of clothes for her. By the second week, I usually found the other half of my brain, and life went much smoother. Life is always a roller coaster, so when ever we make a big change, we need to give ourselves some grace until we get adjusted to that ride.
“This too shall pass,” an apocryphal phrase from the mid 1800’s, seems applicable to this era also, for we’re now on the cusp of autumn. That heat stress driving us to crank up our air conditioning has turned some leaves on our lakefront trees to yellow, so they gleam like lemons against the bright green canopy. The Autumn Equinox will occur on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, at 2:21 pm CDT. Of course, my late rabbit mother would have me retire all my light colored summer clothes by Labor Day, for “no self respecting child of mine should wear white in the fall.” Autumn in the South is just another word for summer. My fall clothes were still light weight cotton, but in darker shades.
Rosh Hashanah on September 6, beginning at sunset, is the celebration of the Jewish New Year, and the creation of the world. It’s one of the holiest days of the Jewish year. Ten days later is “Yom Kippur” or the “Day of Atonement.” This is a day set aside to atone for sins, with prayer, fasting, and attending the synagogue. No work is done on this day, which is one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar. During Yom Kippur, people seek forgiveness from God, and seek to give and receive forgiveness and reconciliation with others.
September 21 is the Chinese Moon Festival, a harvest celebration which dates from about 1000 BCE. The early emperors offered sacrifices to the moon, believing this would result in good harvests the following year. During the Tang Dynasty four centuries later, the noble classes and wealthy merchants imitated the emperor, while the citizens prayed to the moon. Beginning around 1000 CE, the festival took on general acceptance.
Moon cakes arrived in the 14th C, and have retained their popularity. This is not only a family celebration, but a community ritual for connection of relationships. While the cakes themselves aren’t costly, the packaging makes the gift impressive. People can say more by the wrapping’s elegance than by the contents. Moon cakes aren’t for individual consumption, but are meant to be shared, much like life’s joys and sorrows.
The fourth Saturday in this month is International Rabbit Day. Rabbits are the third most popular family pets, after dogs and cats. The care and feeding of a small animal requires attention, patience, and affection, not to mention consistency. How we treat our pets tells the world how we treat humanity. As Mother Teresa once said:
“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
I recommend for your September reading homework The Universal Christ, by the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. Drawing on scripture, history, and spiritual practice, Rohr articulates a transformative view of Jesus Christ as a portrait of God’s constant, unfolding work in the world. “God loves things by becoming them,” he writes, and Jesus’s life was meant to declare that humanity has never been separate from God—except by its own negative choice.
When we recover this fundamental truth, faith becomes less about proving Jesus was God, and more about learning to recognize the Creator’s presence all around us, and in everyone we meet. Until October, my bunny friends, I wish each of you may find in the present moment God’s
George Washington and the First Mass Military Inoculation (John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress) Amy Lynn Filsinger, Georgetown University & Raymond Dwek, FRS, Kluge Chair of Technology and Society. Dr. Dwek is Professor of Glycobiology on leave from Oxford University. https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/GW&smallpoxinoculation.html
9/11/2001—Attack on The World Trade Towers and The Pentagon
10/7/2001—“Operation Enduring Freedom”—Beginning of Afghan War with attacks against terrorist groups in Afghanistan
5/2003—Donald Rumsfeld announces the end of major military operations. The USA and NATO begin nation building and restoration of the poor country, which had gone through two wars and a foreign occupation.
Although there were early successes, such as women’s access to education and entry to politics and jobs, corruption was a way of life, so the money never flowed through the government out into the cities and countryside to help the people.
5/2011—Osama Ben Laden killed in Pakistan by Navy SEAL team
12/31/2014—President Obama decides to end major military action in favor of training the local Afghan army
2/2020—Trump administration negotiates a deal with the Taliban in which they promised to cut ties with terrorist groups, reduce violence, and negotiate with the current government. Unfortunately, there were no sanctions to enforce it.
9/2021—Today—The best laid plans of Mice and Rabbits usually end up in chaos