I am finally getting to the stage of life where my better half and I have begun talking about the “R” word—you know, “retirement.” Frankly, it’s not on the near horizon, but by squinting a bit we can see it off in the distance. It’s autumn—not only on the calendar, but in our lives, and there’s no point denying it. The leaves are changing ever so slowly. Ask my grandson, he’ll tell you they’re turning gray! And more make their way to the ground as the weeks roll by.
A few weeks back we visited Florida for a combined conference and vacation, the vacation days spent in Fort Myers staying at a relative’s place in a 55+ community. Nice place; good setting—ten minute drive to the beach. On more than one occasion the subject of where to live in retirement years came up. I’m sure the setting of row upon row of mobile homes, occupied by those deeper into the autumn season than we, stimulated the discussion. Some days before heading to the beach we took our two-mile walk zig-zagging through the rows of homes, most of which awaited their part-year occupants to return for the winter months. Noticing a few with “For Sale” signs sparked my curiosity as well as my imagination. “What would it take to get one of these places?” I wondered. “What would living in such a community be like? What about year-round living in Florida?” I mused. I also wondered why a twenty-year-old mobile home on a postage stamp should cost $40,000 more than our house on an oversized lot with a two-car garage?
So we chatted about living the golden years—and then the winter years—in the Sunshine State. A lot to be said for it. No raking leaves or shoveling snow or heavy winter coats or slipping on the ice…. No state income tax. The Gulf of Mexico is nearby. A nice shuffle board court. (Ok, not the least bit interested in that one!) One thing’s for sure, there’d be no lack of peers!
On the down side, though, the misery index of summer in Florida parallels that of winter in northern Illinois—day after day of 90+ temps with 90+ humidity isn’t particularly inviting. More importantly, family would be a long way away, and living as close as we do to our children and grandchildren—as well as extended family—would certainly make the distance unbearable. Then Chris dropped this little ditty: “But I like the seasons. Fall is my favorite, and it doesn’t even exist in Florida!” Well, there’s that.
We lived in Vermont for eight years. No place does autumn better. Well, I’m sure our friends in New Hampshire would argue, so let’s just say autumn in New England is unbeatable. But it’s so short! Every year there’s a little anxiety about when the leaves will peak. Conditions are monitored constantly; maps update daily to reflect current stages of color change. Most years, “leaf-peepers” have about a week to catch the spectacle at its most spectacular. Visit too early or too late, too bad. Before you know it the green leaves in the Green Mountain State have transitioned through their gold or orange or red or pale yellow or deep burgundy to brown, then to the ground. Before you know it, it’s “stick season”—those cold, gray, barren weeks after the trees have shed their leaves before the snows of winter dominate the landscape. Stick season evokes dread in anyone with an aversion to the long, frigid months ahead. The thing is, with that first nip of fall in the air and the subtle dissipation of deep green from the leaves, we know what’s coming. Winter.
Many poets and songwriters have made the parallel, so I need not belabor it. The journey of life is marked by a gradual change of seasons. I love the photo above, one of many I took on a late autumn day in Peacham, Vermont, a few years back. Only recently did I catch the ironic symbolism captured by my Nikon and reflected in the pixels. What awaits us when the beautiful leaves of autumn carpet the turf and the howling bitter winds take our breath away? That is an inevitable future reality—a tombstone— with which we all must come to terms.
I really don’t have a clue where we’ll land in those late autumn years of our lives—perhaps right where we are. But one thing’s certain, wherever that may be, winter’s bitter cold lurks around the corner, and I’m grateful for my gracious God’s provision of life to follow in an eternal Spring! I hold tenaciously to Jesus’ promise. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he declared. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Then he compels us to search our souls. “Do you believe this?” he asked.