Of Mathoms and Mornings: Musing on New Beginnings and the First Day of Fall
by Andrew Lazo
I’ve spent some time lately thinking about tomorrow, September 22. As I’ve mused and mumbled over this date, I realize that it offers for me a kind of “still point of the turning world.” I don’t know why Eliot comes to mind, but there he sits, polite bowler hat in hand, looking at me with those luminous owl eyes of his.
You see, this day gets a little tangled up for me. A number of my solar systems collide on this day. It’s the first day of autumn, my favorite season (and much more about this season next month). But then again I live in Texas, where autumn seldom makes itself known, raising its shy hand in class by means of some small splash of color from a stray sugar maple or a warm breeze bearing slightly less humidity. I got spoiled by my time in Tennessee.
My mother died on this day, two years ago for those of you keeping score of my soul at home. And that memory mixes up with a fair share of pain (and not a little comfort), along with an even greater deal of ambivalence. Let’s just say that she passed in too much silence and not a lot of resolution. Perhaps the fact that I value kindness so highly springs from spots where kindness seemed to fall so short.
And this anniversary reminds me of another passing. My father died last May. For the last two years, this day was about Mom, but now that both of my parents have done their shuffling off the mortal coil, this day makes me now officially an orphan.
Loss lasts forever, and long, long after it stops its keening song. But we can find a kind of coda to such songs, to our stories, even in the ways those we love fall short of us.
And speaking of stories, of course the 22nd of September is also a most auspicious, celebratory day. As I sit here on a Sunday, I smile because of how tomorrow offers to many of us an invitation once again to attend a Long-Expected Party, filled with food and fireworks, and much more than mathoms. So Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns of the Day indeed to Mr. Baggins and to Mr. Baggins. I wonder what kind of solemn, elvish merriment they make of hobbit-folk westward over water in Arda, far beyond the Grey Havens?
See, Frodo and Bilbo both form part of my story too now; their ending also makes for new beginnings. And unlike the lives of those we love and lose, one very great blessing from our friends in books comes from the sheer solid joy that arises out of our ability to begin their lives again anytime we wish by opening those old familiar pages. Yes, loss lingers, but language and legend live again and again. Some lives bear repeating, and many of those that do live in the books that I love. All of this somehow makes me mindful this morning of T. S. Eliot:
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstacy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
I don’t really understand these lines from “East Coker” (a kind of Underground stop on the glorious Four Quartets Line). I do know that somehow they shape up a kind of whole out of all that I’m musing about at the ending of summer and start of the fall. And Eliot’s verses also frame up another sort of fall. Not for nothing does “to fall” also mean “to die” in a number of languages.
But dying doesn’t only offer us only an end of a story, does it? Can it not also serve as the best of beginnings? After all, Redemption begins with the Fall, the Easter story begins on Good Friday, and unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear much fruit. So perhaps you’ll forgive me on this last day of the summer for musing in print upon a momento mori.
And (if you didn’t expect it already) you’ll forbear me quoting in closing some of my very favorite words from my master:
“Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.”
C.S. Lewis is right (Again. Naturally). And because tomorrow is a Monday morning, and the first day of several falls, I will arise and go forth into this day the Lord has made, and make what good I can of it, even as I hope for (who knows?) some long-expected party to take me by surprise.
Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website: http://andrewlazo.com