I was told some decades ago that my life would pass like the seasons of the year. With life-expectancy hovering at roughly around eighty years, my wise counselor said that we can divide our lives into four seasons of twenty years each. The first twenty years of life is spring. Life is new and young. Flowers bloom and the grass is green. Everything is just beginning – childhood, adolescence, young adulthood. In the spring we begin to plant the seeds that in time will grow, bloom, and eventually be harvested. The entire year – all other seasons – lay out before us, and we want to get to them as quickly as we can.
The next twenty years compose summer. The days are long and warm. We have time to work, love, and play. The seeds we planted in the spring, we now cultivate, water, and fertilize. And we plant many, many, more seeds. Everything is growing, sometimes productively, and sometimes in a weedy, tangled mess. We fight floods and drought, good times and bad, working with the soil and farm that is uniquely ours.
The third season of the year/life, of course, is autumn, the great time of harvest. In our forties and fifties and stretching into our sixties, we begin to reap what we have sown. Our children become adults, and move toward the summer of their own lives. Our careers and ideas about life reach maturity. The colors begin to change, on top of our heads and on our chins. Traditionally, autumn is the most productive time of our lives, the “prime of life.” Maybe we should think of the prime of life as Robert Raines defines it; prime as in prime rib. “Everybody is eating off of me,” he said.
In autumn we attempt to raise our children, for who we are too out-of-step, and try to relate to parents for who we are too radical, all while working toward a harvest that simply will not wait. There is a lot to do, and balancing it all is not always easy. In some cases, the harvest season becomes so overwhelming that people leave more to rot in the field that they take into the barn.
Finally, there is the winter, the last twenty or so years of our lives. There are still crops to harvest, and there are still a few seeds to plant, though not always in the big back yards or sprawling farms of life. We plant and cultivate in little flower pots and hanging baskets, the days much shorter. In the winter we pass along to others the planting seeds we have gathered from our own lives. It is that time of life when we prepare others for their seasons and for the lives they must live, giving away the tools and the provisions that once sustained us.
Now, this analogy isn’t perfect and the seasons aren’t as compartmentalized as maybe I have made it sound, but neither is the weather or the seasons of the year. Sometimes it’s hot enough to get sunburn in December. Sometimes it snows on the 4th of July. Sometimes we harvest in February and plant in November. And it’s not always clear where people are in their lives. There are fast-learners and late-bloomers; and you can be living in multiple seasons all at the same time.
We cannot stop the movement of our lives, from growing older or moving from summer to winter. The issue at hand is not, “How do I stop the passage of time?” The issue is “What am I going to do with the time that I have?” Spring, summer, fall, and winter: Which ever season your life calls home, what are you going to do within that season of life, for time is always of the essence? Returning to one of my favorite quotes (and people), Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Amen, Brother Twain; it’s time to get busy.