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Local History

At the Departure of a Loved One, Reflections on the Seasons of Time

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Ian Sane via Flickr
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Creative Commons / Used with permission

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills.  Try as I might, although I always yearn for Autumn, I cannot await its coming without realizing that it signals more than anything the end of things. Not everything. But some. Several. And certainly some I am loth to see depart.

The balmy days. The long evenings. The garden annuals. And friends. Neighbors. And family. Those are the hardest, and leave us hoping desperately that they all will at least reach their full growth, hopefully their prime or far beyond it if they will, and pass with ease and a sense of life fulfilled, of accomplishing something of worth by one definition or another.

We take that deep hope to be something personal between us and those we love, but it is in us all from time immemorial, and is at the seat of most of our legends.

The whole bit about John Barleycorn, for instance. Wikipedia deals with that quite tidily. It’s a British folksong. It’s not a real guy. It’s a cereal grain. and so on. Another web site, called Learn Religion, goes farther to say, “In English folklore, John Barleycorn is a character who represents the crop of barley harvested each autumn. Equally as important, he symbolizes the wonderful drinks which can be made from barley—beer and whiskey—and their effects. In the traditional folksong, …, the character of John Barleycorn endures … indignities, most of which correspond to the cyclic nature of planting, growing, harvesting, and then death.”

That’s pretty good, actually. They go on to mention that the song itself dates back to the reign of Elizabeth the First, or the early 1600s.

But the legend has its beginnings in Celtic mythology and before that.

But the legend in all its forms has one basic message: you’re born, you live your life with luck or without, and then you’re hewn down, whether for bread and beer, or just for biomass.

Either way, you’re done. There might be more later, but we don’t know.

As for Barley, well, we’ll save seeds and do it again next year. One of the hardest things for us as humans is acquiescing to the idea and then to the reality of death. The notion that life has an ending. That we end. And so does everyone around us, sooner or later.

And that, in essence, this is how life works. We look to nature, and sure enough, life there is born, grows to maturity if it’s lucky, or not, and then it dies…and… is reborn. And so returns to die again, on and on.

The main task of virtually all our major religions is to help us come to believe, through stories, myths and fables, just how, and why, this is so. And that somehow we’ll be ok. But of course we have questions. Is it about something.

Does it mean something. Do we? Some posit a heaven and hell, some posit eternity, some reincarnation.

George Harrison of the Beatles said that to him it just didn’t seem fair that we wouldn’t get to “come back until we get it right.”

Others say one shot and that’s it. But we don’t know. None of us. And we won’t until we get there.

Here’s what it’s about for me right now. I lost my oldest and closest friend two days before the Harvest Moon - on September 11, and I am staggered by how I feel about that.

On the one hand it is a totally unutterable loss. On the other, she seems to still be just around the corner, just beyond the doorway. Not that far away.

It is beyond my capacity to call her gone. Especially when her going was so very sweet.

She had a good death, a friend said. It’s true, she did. Unorthodox, but very good, due to an event that was not really planned, it just sort of happened.

Some basic things had been decided, so that upon her passing, she was bathed by loved ones including her dear wife, and wrapped in a beautiful cloth and carried out to a simple bier outdoors in the shade of an ash tree as the sun leaned toward sunset.

She was passionate about the outdoors, and it seemed fitting. She was surrounded by flowers harvested from her own generous garden, her fishing hat placed on her head. Meanwhile the notice had gone out immediately on Facebook and on the Caring Bridge web site that she had passed, she would be leaving the farm shortly, and if anyone wanted to say goodbye they were welcome to come.

And by the time the hearse arrived, an estimated 20 to 30 friends had dropped what they were doing and drove out to her rural home.

And they encircled the bier, each adding a flower, and they sang to her. She and Lois had hoped it would be something like that, but in execution it was a completely spontaneous event.

Nothing formal. Nothing according to doctrine. No rites. Those will come later. They just sang her goodbye. I arrived late, but was in time to be part of it.

Then, as dusk arrived and the almost-harvest moon rose directly above her and her new road, she was spirited away across these Ozarks Hills.

It was just beautiful. Now some might say it was too earthy, too unorthodox. Others might claim they heard the moon say, “You’re a bit early. Not quite time for the Harvest.” To which she would probably have replied, “Time? What’s time to me?”

Those who knew her thought it was just about perfect. But in that moment, those who were left, standing in the moon’s warm glow waving farewell, knew something else as well. We knew deep in our souls, that in that moment the circle of life and seasons and time, they have all, by that effort, been kept intact. The circle, indeed, remains unbroken.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills celebrating that which does not end:  the endless turning.