Years ago, I loved to listen to Gordon Bok singing “Turning Towards the Morning” on well-worn Folk-Legacy LP. I could listen for hours to his lyrics and soothing baritone voice singing with partners Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir. The song comforted me with its gentle hopefulness.
Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
That the stars are swingin’ slow
And the seas are rollin’ easy
As they did so long ago
If I had a thing to give you
I would tell you one more time
That the world is always turning toward the morning.
In a world where new crises break with the regularity of waves upon the shore, I appreciate the steadiness of some of nature’s rhythms. Summer into fall, night into day–we humans don’t seem to be able to mess up her beat.
Taking time to hear that beat, though, has been challenging. During the now-ongoing pandemic, my months seem to slur together. That’s why, at the end of the summer, I want to honor a small turning in the year with a ritual of reflection.
In cultures around the world, people celebrate the change in seasons by celebrating the equinoxes and solstices.
In my family, we celebrated one yearly ritual that marked the transition of summer into fall. It was called “Back-to-school.”
That turning point gave a rhythm to my year. For me, back-to-school was the true beginning of the new year. New Year’s Day was just mid-point fluff. I still can hear a jingle from the 1950s:
“School bells ring and children sing, it’s back to Robert Hall again.”
I never shopped for clothes at Robert Hall, but the idea of ringing and singing to start the school year stuck in my mind.
Late August was the time to shop for a school outfit, check to see if my shoes still fit, clean out my lunch pail, and buy new pencils. I balanced excitement about new learning and seeing my friends with apprehension about my new teacher and class.
If you have children at home now, you have already observed your “back-to-school” ritual this year. (I doubt that children are buying pencils.) Without any children going back to school and without heading off to school myself, I don’t have a built-in back-to-school ritual.
So, this year, to give a little rhythm and ritual to my year, I want to honor the end of summer and the (almost) beginning of fall with a moment of reflection.
When I think back on the summer:
- What did I most enjoy?
- What was most difficult?
- What did I most regret?
- What do I acknowledge myself for?
I loved fresh berries, swims when the sun heated up our cold waters, watching the horses graze the back yard, and letting the dogs run in and out of the house without worrying about muddy paws. Plus, we had the once-in-a-lifetime treat of our 23-year-old grandson living with us.
Most difficult was surviving the heat dome and staying burrowed inside. Then, of course, there was the news.
I regret spending so much time indoors writing, knowing that the summer sun wouldn’t last forever.
I acknowledge myself for spending so much time indoors writing; I made progress on my book and feel satisfied.
Now, thinking ahead to fall:
- What is wonderful about fall?
- Where might I be challenged?
- What opportunities does it offer?
- Where will I find joy?
I love watching the leaves change colors, apples on the trees, crisper air, and the fresh breath of hope that comes with a new year.
I’m likely to be challenged when the rain starts, the skies go dark and the days shorten. (Plus the news. Depression may want to drop by for a visit by Thanksgiving.
The opportunities are unclear, but I know they will be here. The world is changing so fast. Zoom is connecting us across boundaries. I will meet new colleagues, make new friends, and may learn some things that will change my life.
Joy will be my project–it’s my job to keep looking for and receiving it. Today my joy is a favorite Japanese maple that is turning into a luscious light burgundy.
The Great Turning
My ritual acknowledging the change in seasons helps me feel, in a small way, connected to the rhythms of the earth, an earth at risk. Time to remember our connection and stay grounded to Gaia, mother earth, as we move forward with what author Joanna Macy calls “The Great Turning.” That’s her expression to describe how we must move forward with the changes that are coming, allowing ourselves to feel the suffering of the earth at the same time choosing more life-sustaining ways.
Macy is 92, a writer, Buddhist teacher, systems thinker, and eco-activist–truly a luminary for our time. She’s my go-to visionary for dealing with environmental despair. She writes:
“Being fully present to fear, to gratitude, to all that is—this is the practice of mutual belonging. As living members of the living body of Earth, we are grounded in that kind of belonging. We will find more ways to remember, celebrate, and affirm this deep knowing: we belong to each other, we belong to Earth. Even when faced with cataclysmic changes, nothing can ever separate us from her. We are already home.
Our belonging is rooted in the living body of Earth, woven of the flows of time and relationship that form our bodies, our communities, our climate. When we turn and open our heart–mind to Earth, she is always there….”
Even though I’m not quite ready to let summer go, it helps me to take a moment to honor the days behind and the days ahead, a small turning that may help me find strength as we face a larger one.
Then, I put on Gordon Bok, remember the days of listening to him, and take comfort in knowing there are forces bigger than me always turning us toward the morning.