It’s August. I’m looking out the windows of our log house and across the immense variety of green leaves, on oak and birch, mountain laurel and sycamore, magnolia and honeysuckle. It’s a rain forest here. Indeed, after a long dry spell, we’ve had days and days of soaking rain, with breaks in the clouds so that the sun raises steam from the earth like water coming up in the garden of Eden.
But the greens have hints of yellow. And the clouds are not just summer thunderheads but low, fast, and broken. The dogs are lazier than normal, as their crusted red-clay coats begin to flake off to reveal the fur underneath. Even the cats seem less mobile — if that were possible. The evenings, despite the blast furnace of August, cool more than in July.
All in all, the signs are there for those who watch. I grew up watching the weather, watching leaves flipped before storms, listening to the sound of winter winds, smelling storms on the air. I know autumn is hiding across the Blue Ridge Mountains, a child peeking over and shaping the weather, teasing us, reminding us that summer will soon go on its own vacation, and the wind will chill us and drive down the leaves, their red, orange, and yellow as varied as summer green.
But for all my love of autumn, for all my desire for cool air and the smell of wood smoke, autumn hurts me. It is the end of summer and the beginning of fall that takes my children from me and forces them back to school and schedules. It’s difficult enough to leave them for work, more so to know that my schedule and theirs conspire to separate something so vital, so elemental, as the time families spend in communion with one another.
Even as I write, my daughter Elysa, a high school sophomore, is finalizing her summer reading. Her brother Elijah, a high school senior, is spending his last days with his girlfriend Tori, who leaves for the University of South Carolina all too soon. My oldest boys, Sam and Seth, will return to Clemson in a few days, closer and closer to independence. The leaves change, the sky is darker, the children are growing up and moving on, with the imperatives and requirements of their own lives, their own passions, their own needs and desires, their own loves.
As difficult as this can be, I recognize that I did the same, as did my wife Jan and our parents and theirs. This is the cycle, the natural history of the world. We raise and guard our precious children and launch them forth to do the same. And we hope that the cords that tie us remain intact — that the circle remains unbroken.
What has any of this to do with our work? Our physician lives? The lesson is this: Time is fleeting; life and love are precious. Wives and husbands and children are rare gems in the rolling seasons of life. So waste not, want not, as it were.
The seasons will turn. The clouds race, the school buses arrive, and the graduations loom. In the midst of this, we must never delude ourselves that our money, our directorships, even our retirement accounts will ever be sufficient solace if we look back and feel that we did not use our time wisely with the ones who mattered most of all.
Our work, our patients and our skills all matter to the extent that they help others to live long and well, that they help those parents and children to enjoy the passing years together. Beyond that, they are important but less so than our own people, the ones we are committed to, bound to by vows and rings, by birth and blood and by adoption and choice.
So as the year turns and new opportunities and shifts arise, be honored but be circumspect. Keep before you the fact that everything changes, but with attention and love, all of our connections can remain intact despite years and geography. If only we value them more than we do our certificates, degrees, incomes and positions.
The clouds will roll and the leaves will fall, my friends, and we might as well watch them pass with joy, not regret.
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