"To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven..."
Many of us sing that song (in its setting by The Byrds) during Sukkot, the festival of harvest and impermanence, which begins four days after Yom Kippur. The megillah (scroll) assigned to that festival is Kohelet, after all -- known in English as Ecclesiastes -- which is the source of that bit of scripture.
We may study Kohelet during Sukkot in particular, but impermanence is a reality all year long. Change is a constant. Even when things appear to be standing still, subtle change is always unfolding.
I'm particularly conscious of this at this time of year, when the glorious greenery of the Berkshire hills begins to shift. Early in August, the first yellow or red maple leaf blows across my line of sight. I always feel a pang. I love the long days of summertime, the golden light, the abundance of flowers and leaves and vegetables and fruits. I'm not ready!
But I know that part of what makes the Berkshire summers so glorious is that they don't last forever. (In the words of House Stark, for any Game of Thrones among you: Winter is coming.) We don't live in the tropics; the days here shift, longer to shorter, warm to cold, and then back again. The real beauty is in the rhythm of the constant change.
Seasons are cyclical; human life is linear, more or less. (Though my good friend Reb Jeff wrote a beautiful post recently about how human life isn't really as linear as we tend to think -- Contrast and Commonality -- which I highly recommend.) There are cycles and circles and recurring themes in every human life, but outside of science fiction we experience the arrow of time going in one direction. We're all growing older, every day; moving further away from the transition into this life, and toward the transition out of this life. But as with the seasons, part of the work of this life is learning to find the beauty in the change, instead of getting too attached to any stage along the way.
I love having a not-quite-four-year-old. This is a charming, fun, funny, exuberant, wonderful age. There are moments when I think: I wish I could hit a cosmic "pause" button and stay with this age, because I love the person our son is right now! I love the cuddles and the silly songs and the goofiness and the earnest sweetness. But then I remember: if I could somehow pause him at this age, I wouldn't get to experience the blessings (and challenges, and frustrations) of what comes next. And what comes after that.
In parenting, it often seems that the only constant is change. I remember when he was an infant and I would become exasperated because just when it seemed we'd "figured him out," and knew how to soothe and comfort him, something would change and the old techniques wouldn't work anymore. The changes are different now than they were then, but change is still the constant.
Though I like to think that love is the real constant. Change is inevitable, change is always unfolding -- but our ability to love one another remains. Our sages teach us that this month’s name, Elul / אלול, can be read as an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי / “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. (That’s from Song of Songs.) The Beloved, in this case, is God; this is our month for remembering that we can experience God not only as King and Ruler and Judge (the metaphors so prevalent in the traditional high holiday liturgy) but also as our Beloved and our Friend. This is the month when God walks in the fields with us, yearning to connect with us Friend-to-friend, Beloved-to-beloved. Life is change, but love always remains.