Beauty, Bold and Bittersweet.

Lili Zohar's picture

In the plains of Colorado a dusting of frosty snow and a dollop of cold air has descended at last. This autumn, magnificently mild and dry, has showered us with a canopy of colors evocative of a New England Fall. The dancing golds and flaming reds are juxtaposed against the vastness of the endless cerulean blue sky. Joining the jubilant celebration, I bask in this sea of lively color when I gaze out my living room window or stroll in the gardens and parks. I have been roller blading with the abandon of a teen, avoiding the slick panoply of vibrant leaves and twigs on the path, knowing these days of Indian Summer are nearly gone.

Amidst the stunning beauty, my steady companions broken-heartedness and delight are exquisitely entwined. I worry about the global warming trend's impact on the critters and mammals' hibernation, the birds' migrations, the soil and the seeds. I recall another autumn, in 2001 which was destined to be my son Eli’s last. That year we had weather more reminiscent of the Colorado of my childhood, with a cold snap and chilling frost before September's end. The leaves turned brown on their branches and blandly departed, listlessly falling to the yellowish hard earth below. Of all years, that one I yearned for the colors to be glorious, the days to be warm, bright and clear. I wanted beauty to surround us like angels, making it all softer and less bleak.

I have a snapshot of Eli playing in bundles of leaves from that autumn, a gregarious eight year old who didn’t seem to mind shades of brown and gray. He rolled in the carefully raked piles in front of our home where he had sold lemonade in the warmer months just before. Eli called out to strangers, beckoning them to slow down and partake of his treats. He liked them to laugh at his silly stories and share his infectiously goofy grin. The nurses whose job it was to blast his brain with radiation, he noticed, were the saddest people he had ever met. So he brought them pictures of our golden retriever Sunshine to help lift their spirits. The moment of cheery exchange was all that Eli was after, which is why he insisted we stop and give something at every corner where a beggar was in need. This magnanimous display irked Eli's older brother Henry who feared we were financing some nasty habits. All our choices have implications, the pre-teen argued. No matter how well intended, even innocent deeds can cause unintended harm. We compromised by offering healthy snacks to the homeless, but Eli's generosity otherwise won the day. He liked the moment of connection when we reached out the car window offering a small ray of light, an ounce of nourishment and hope.

Clearly, the disappointment that the colors weren't more vivid and brilliant that Fall was mine alone. In the photo, Eli’s smile covers his whole face as he plays in that lifeless pile of debris. He seemed to have had a color scheme of a different magnitude and hue, one that allowed for warmth and humor while we who loved him hoped it could be some other way. The last year of his life, everything seemed sweeter, fuller and more alive. Those of us who live on still wrestle with humanity's dilemmas, be they mighty or mundane. The biting air tonight reminds me that winter, like death, is surely close at hand. I want to live to the end of my days fully engaged like Eli, without second guesses or regrets. He relished each point of contact as if it were the last delicious taste of something sweet and final, encountering each gift or challenge on its and his own terms, exactly where they met. The majesty of the colors this autumn are poignant, for in their splendor is the exhalation of summer's inevitable demise. Tonight each wisp of wind and dying leaf feels so very precious. We are made of this Beauty that enfolds us, as bold as it is bitter-sweet.