Autumn is well nigh. The lawn and gardens are strewn with confetti – the leaves are falling. The Harvest Moon is the first bookend of a month’s worth of shortening days and cooler nights. Traditionally, farmers work their fields well into the night by the Harvest Moon’s light, then put up their yields. The next moon, Hunter’s Moon, is named because barren fields reveal the fox, pheasant, and other prey more readily. It’s a time of taking stock, setting store, and filling the gaps in what is needed.
Traditionally, a new beginning was marked by the growing season’s end. The Jewish New Year and the highest holy day of atonement, Yom Kippur, occur in this time frame. Metaphorically, the Harvest and Hunter’s moons illuminate our accomplishments and knowledge, as well as our search for meaning and wisdom.
When one reaches life’s autumn, this process is especially poignant. We find ourselves in the storehouse, assessing what we have reaped. There remains an ever-smaller window of time to hunt for the meaningful. For many of us, Pete and myself included, the decade between 50 and 60 is full of none too gentle reminders that life is finite. Are we able to look back on our accomplishments and be gratified? What further search and progress would be good? At the end of our days, in the winter of our lives, what will our inventory list?
Twenty-five years ago, I was fortunate to spend a week with my father just before his not-quite-unexpected passing. Although his health had long been compromised he was still a young 56, and we had been through these episodes before. My last day with him was spent at his bedside. Uncharacteristically, the conversation turned to what he thought was important in life. Uncharacteristically, I listened. Perhaps he had a premonition. If so, he didn’t let on. What he did say follows. As he was never one to mince words, be duly warned.
Never say ‘if only.’ “You must always go for it. You don’t want to look back and wish you had done something you only dreamed of doing.”
Be the best you can. “I don’t care what you want to be, just be the best you can. If you want to drive a truck be the best. If you want to collect garbage, be the best goddamn garbage man ever.”
Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. “You’re going to wind up practicing your line on someone who’s been around the block more than you have. Get real. Don’t go for the snow job. People aren’t stupid.”
Never believe your own bullshit. “The trouble with today is more people believe their own bullshit. And they want you to believe it, too. The problem is, they start thinking they’re way up there above the rest of us. All you got to remember is everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.”
Think about what you’ll remember. “Hey, you can’t tell me that on your deathbed you’ll be thinking about some business deal you did. That’s crap. If that’s the way you wind up, well, I’m sorry for ya.”
Remember where you came from. “Be proud of who you are and who your family is. Don’t get too big for your britches. Remember, I sold vegetables door to door, so if you’re looking for a high horse you got left on the wrong doorstep.”
Out of the frying pan, into the fire. “Always get out of a bad situation, but think about the next thing that comes along. Is it gonna be more of the same or what?”
As long as my socks are on, it’s good. “All I know is they don’t put a toe tag on anything but a naked foot. So I wake up, I look, I see my foot in a sock, I’m still here, I can go back to sleep.”
Okay, that last one was a little bizarre. I guess you had to be there. He’d lain in the Emergency Room all night, awaiting a free bed. Left unsaid was what had needed to occur in order for there to be room for him. They don’t call Florida God’s waiting room for nothin’, he told me.
Ever the farm boy, even though they’d lived in town for years, my father’s garden took up half the yard. When he announced one year that all he could grow was “tired,” we knew another slower season was upon us. Dad was content with his life in the autumn of his years. Although poor health had compromised his working days at a very young age, in his retirement he felt a lucky man: “I’ve gotten up every morning for about ten years, walked out my door and gone fishing. Does a Rockefeller get to do that?”
These past few Harvest Moons, Pete and I have talked about giving ourselves permission to look back less often. We’re more aware than ever of the shortened seasons ahead before our days of winter. We have assessed our regrets and are working on accepting them. We have taken stock of our yield thus far, and now we look to hunt for more of life’s treasure. Dad’s plain-spoken words have always been great markers. They’re illuminated in the brightness of the Harvest Moon.