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The Gifts of the Autumn Years

09/21/2011 10:54 am ET | Updated Nov 21, 2011

With the arrival of autumn, I welcome the return of what has always been my favorite season. There is something poignant about savoring the waning days of light and warmth as the last long days of summer take their final bow and winter appears on the distant horizon.

Like drinking the last drops of a really fine wine or lingering over the last few bites of a sumptuous meal, autumn arrives on the heels of summer urging us to harvest the abundance and fill up with sweetness. All too soon, the light will be gone, the days will be short and nights will be long. The time to turn inward approaches, and the work of winter is about to begin.

Autumn has a deeper meaning for me this year as I recognize my own life about to enter its "autumn years." People jest that "60 is the new 40" -- I guess that makes me "the new 50" on my birthday next year. The younger version of me always dreaded the idea of growing older. Now that I'm knocking on autumn's door, I'm quite delighted to have come this far and to be right where I am.

No matter how old one is, we're always standing at the edge of the unknown. There is no certainty, not even about taking the next breath. But growing older affords one a certain perspective on life, not available from the earlier parts of the journey. Gratitude comes forward, front and center, as the prevailing consciousness. What could be better than that?

Life becomes more precious when there's much less left of it. Turning 70 is a poignant reminder that the road ahead is far shorter than the road already traveled, or as my friend says, "There aren't that many more shopping days left til Christmas."

Out in the distance, on occasion, if the angle is just right, I can catch a tiny glimpse of the finish line. I can feel the end of my earthly story coalescing, and although the details aren't clear, nor do I know how it all turns out, I know that between here and there, there is a lot of living left to do, even if it's only one more day.

Sensing the presence of the finish line is a vivid reminder that every day matters. Although at times these words sound trite in a Hallmark card kind of way, the truth is, none of us knows how or when the finish line will rise up to meet us. We all know of someone who left home one day and never came back. They weren't planning for it to be their last day, and yet winter arrived without warning and the finish line rose up to meet them. The seasons of our lives don't always pay attention to or play by the rules of the calendar. One could be in autumn or winter and not even know it. Why not live each day as if it's the last?

But what does that mean on a practical level? Should we go off the reservation and live with wild abandon? Should we shrug off all responsibilities, charge up our credit cards, leave the beds unmade and dirty dishes in the sink? After all, why care about these things if we're living each day like there's no tomorrow?

The answer doesn't lie in what we do. We could travel the world and check off all the items on our bucket list, but if they're done from a consciousness of fear, dread or clinging to life in a needy kind of way, we could spend our precious autumn days suffering as much as ever and miss out on the opportunity to experience fulfillment and completion.

The earlier stages of life are all about making it in the outer world. For most of the 40-to-50 years preceding autumn, people are heavily engaged in gaining knowledge and experience, building a career, establishing a reputation, working hard to earn money and provide a living for one's self and one's family. Life is all about achieving, accomplishing, accumulating or surviving.

But the focus shifts as autumn approaches and our tasks become more inward oriented. Much of the traditional doing part of life begins to dissipate as we approach the age of retirement, or at least we begin to slow down. Our task now, if we are to continue to grow beyond our former outward focus and develop the deeper depths of our being, is self-renewal.

Autumn is a time to update the operating system of our life. There are old files and programs to be deleted, hard drives that need cleaning and random access memory to be added. It's time to push the "refresh" button and invent one's self anew.

And why not? It's not about being in denial. In fact, just the opposite. It's time to look squarely ahead out in front and recognize the inevitability of the finish line approaching. Then, choose who you want to be and how you want to live out the remaining years of your life, knowing any one of them could be the last.

Whatever season of life you're in -- spring, summer or fall: Write an inspiring script for your future and then live into it, starting now, knowing that you won't have control over everything that happens between here and there. But so what? Even though life has its own script, your job is to step right up to it, face it, and then choose. If not now, when?

Miracles occur when human beings step up to the life they've got right there, in the muck and the mire, and discover they're far more creative and capable than they ever dreamed they were. Miracles occur when we learn to blossom right in the middle of what we told ourselves we could never survive or get beyond. Miracles happen when we discover that we are far more than who we ever thought we were or what we were taught to be. Miracles occur when we have the courage to choose, not from fear or from the past, but from our deepest and highest self.

Right now, at the level of appearances, the world isn't looking too good. The world economy, and the institutions that support it, are in trouble. All of us have been impacted by these events, which are entirely out of anyone's individual control. This doesn't look like the breeding ground for miracles, but this is what we have. It isn't pretty, fun or easy. In fact, it's downright difficult and devastating for many. Especially seniors.

In times like these, it's easy to lose faith in one's self, in life, in people or in the world. The easy way is to drop out, give up, resign, tell yourself you'll never win, why bother, the deck is stacked against you. And then someone like my friend Bernie, who is in his 70s, goes out and gets a job working in an Apple retail store. The "geezer" is becoming a "geekster," or as Bernie says, a "geekstar"!

Bernie has never worked retail in his adult life. He retired as an executive from IBM over a decade ago and has spent most of the last 10 years as a mentor and coach, helping others to discover their own greatness. He didn't have any special connections that pulled strings to help him get this job. What he does have is the gift of knowing who he is and a willingness to show up and be available for life and its opportunities. What he continues to have, as a man in his autumn years, is the ability to push the "refresh" button and invent himself anew. What he does have is access to his power and passion, creativity and aliveness. Bernie knows there is a lot of living left to do. And so he's set out on this new adventure, living right out to the edge.

The autumn of life brings us into evening, where life becomes quieter and a new portal opens. We discover a kind of beauty that only becomes available at this stage of life. New voices emerge; new wisdom is gained. We learn to appreciate the subtle and the sublime. We become creative in ways never deemed possible in our younger years. Artists, writers and poets emerge. Lovers of life with less time left now see their job as giving back to the larger community of beings. Larger forces come into play, preparing for the journey ahead.

Standing at the threshold of autumn, this is what I see it's about: harvesting the gifts grown over a lifetime, applying generous amounts of love and gratitude, community and wisdom to render up a rich and sweet elixir sufficient to sustain one through the last leg of the journey.

Where in life's calendar are you? What are the gifts and challenges of your season?

Please feel free to leave a comment below or come pay a visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. For personal contact, I can be reached at judith@judithrich.com.

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