The streets are littered with leaf-confetti and I watch as earth readies herself for this shedding.
This slow peeling away reveals the beauty underneath–until all that is left is naked vulnerability. We shed our lives this way–layer after layer, year by year.
I am reminded of this by a chance encounter with a neighbor. He is there, in those last days of shrugging off the years.
I found him on his front porch on my way to the bus stop. He likes to sit there, just take in the day. I knew his health has been declining–have chatted with him about strokes and doctors and such. This day, he had more news.
He approached me, unsteady on his feet but determined to close this gap between us. I held Lucy Mae firm on her leash, holding breath as he traversed uneven ground.
We exchanged greetings and he made over my girl, who tried to jump up to kiss him despite shortened leash.
Then he got to it.
“The doctors tell me I have a blood disorder. There’s nothing they can do about it. My blood makes too many red blood cells and thickens up so much that it can’t get to my brain.”
This 91 year old war veteran’s jaw quivered as he made this bold statement. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the movement in the air around us– leaves drifting from the oak in his yard, floating leisurely to the ground.
“Did they put you on blood thinner? Isn’t there something they can do?”
He shook his head and responded as if talking about the weather.
“There’s nothing they can do.”
I looked into his eyes and saw no fear there. Saw the beauty in this naked vulnerability.
“So,” I whispered, “You are just waiting for the end.”
He held my gaze.
“Listen, I’m ready for the end. My wife died six years ago and life hasn’t been the same since. I’m ready to be with her again.”
I swallowed, held Lucy Mae’s leash tighter.
“Well…that will be nice then…”
“My daughter’s coming from Kansas this week. We’ll talk about what we’re going to do.”
He gestured to his house and yard, moved his hand as if wiping it all away.
I heard the school bus arrive at the mouth of our neighborhood…squeaking brakes and protesting metal. Soon, the children were abreast, young voices everywhere. Jeffrey came alongside and Lucy Mae let him know how much she missed him.
I just stood there. Rooted. Lost for words.
He did too.
Then he smiled.
“One good thing,” his smile takes on an ornery twist. “My niece runs a mortuary. I won’t have to worry about that.”
With that, he turned his back and slowly made his way over the rough grass back to his porch. I watched, made sure he wouldn’t need me…then waved my goodbye as we took our leave.
We walk home amidst swirling leaves. The crisp fall wind carries these light bodies like kites, and I am shed of all distractions.
I am aware of the sky, so blue…of how the wind kisses my cheeks…the scent of leaves giving up chlorophyll…
I am wondering how it is to know that death is soon forthcoming.
This is the evidence of a life well-lived: When the shedding reveals beauty. When everything else is stripped away and God’s glory is laid bare for all eyes to see.
My dear neighbor is preparing to shed his earthly body and take on another form of beauty. Don’t you know that the saints are rejoicing? Don’t you know that the angels are preparing the loveliest of songs for his welcome?
The leaves blowing on the breeze carry this message today. I am grateful for these wind-whisperings, for they remind me to be present–to be here now.
For the shedding continues in me as well.
For more on contemplation, visit us over at High Calling Blogs for our latest book club discussion.