Autumn lessons: There is a time for all things

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As the weather cools and the trees begin their transformation from green to gold to brown, lessons on life can be seen all around.

Autumn has finally arrived. It’s time to keep the windows open. It’s cool enough during the day to provide a gentle breeze and crisp enough to enjoy pulling the covers up at night, the time of year when you don’t need heating or air conditioning.

At lunchtime, I can hear children playing in the school yard. With the windows open, the church bells across the street sound louder and more joyful.

It’s a glorious time. Fall is my favorite season. When you are dying during the fall, it’s almost impossible to avoid the symbolism of the trees: Just before their leaves die, they become the most gorgeous of all, in brilliant shades of gold and crimson.

Obviously, that means we are most gorgeous and brilliant as we approach the end of our lives…Right?

I don’t have the energy to argue with that conclusion; I feel as old and tired as that cliché. But ask me if I feel brilliant and gorgeous, and I bet you could guess my answer.

Yet we do become wiser as we age.

Wise enough to actually have good advice to give, but smart enough to keep quiet until someone asks our opinion.

Wise enough to see great errors being made but seasoned enough to realize when they must be made. Stubbornness often prevents folks from learning from anything except their own painful mistakes.

When you learn a lesson the hard way, you pay a high price. My dad used to call that the “tuition of life.” If you were savvy enough to learn from someone else’s mistake, he called that a “scholarship.” You got the lesson, but someone else paid your tuition. And if you made the same mistake twice, you failed the class and had to pay for summer school. Very expensive to learn that way.  

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There is an appointed time for everything, a season for every task under heaven.

A time to weep and grieve; and a time to laugh and dance.

A time to be silent and let your children make their own mistakes and a time to shout at them so they notice the cars on the street and remain on the sidewalk.

A time to play it safe and a time to take risks.

A time to insist on dressing warmly and a time to let them go out poorly dressed so they feel the cold and learn that weather must influence clothing choice.

A time to splurge on a special dinner and a time to stretch the leftovers.

A time to check their homework and help them study; and a time to let them learn that sloppy work earns a lower grade.

A time to say, “I’m sorry; you were right and I was wrong,” and a time to flash your “I told you so” smile.

A time to be born, and a time to die.

A time to say, “I love you” and a time to say, “I love you.”

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Something like that can be found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

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The real mystery of Autumn is this:

What does the green leaf, still firmly attached to the tree, need to know from the crinkled-up brown one, seconds before the wind snatches it off and whirls it away? What could the brown one possibly have to offer?

Other than, “The best part of my life has been the honor of sharing this tree branch with you…”


Lisa is the founder and was the first director of Tomorrow’s Present, a Milwaukee-based youth leadership program of The Leadership Center at Cardinal Stritch University, operating in partnership with the House of Peace, a Capuchin Franciscan ministry.

Lisa was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year. For more on her story, see "The dying wish of a youth ministry pioneer." You can also read Lisa's personal blog Dying to Know You Better, and she has a novel, Made To Write. An archive of her blog posts on USCatholic.org can be found at Final Thoughts.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.