Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2013/ 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5774
Ecclesiastes on a bicycle
By Paul Greenberg
The old boy walked the bike out the door of his house in
It was hard to tell which golden view high above the winding Arkansas River below he preferred. One after another, the great oaks were turning into splendor. He knew others would burst forth any day. He tried to pick a favorite tree on his route. He decided it would be the next one to turn. As with all good things, anticipation may be the sweetest part.
It had been summer for so long, all this was still new to him, as it is every blessed year -- the early morning cool, the crackle of the leaves, the scent of fall itself, like a lover returning. ("Had you forgotten me? Did you think I'd forgotten you? How could you!")
These days he needed a thin jacket for the morning ride around the neighborhood. As always, October had come as a relief from another summer that refused to end and, as always, its end had come as a surprise. We knew about fall in the abstract, but to actually have it here, to sense it, to feel it with every breath. ... All this beauty hadn't been part of just an imagined past after all. Now it was vivid present -- the fresh breeze, the unfolding palette of autumn colors. Welcome back! Fall is bustin' out all over.
The leaves were already starting to come down in the yard and invade the oddest corners of the house. How do they do it -- manage to infiltrate in such numbers and in so many places. ... It was a mystery to him. Of course so much was. Even if it happened every year. He didn't mind picking them up, not yet. They were a welcome sign that the seasons still change. Some things are still right with the world.
Last time he'd taken
Men still make the mistake of assuming the future will be but a projection of the present. If we paid more attention to the past, we might know life is just full of surprises, some of them less than pleasant.
Why do we think of peace as the natural state of things and war as an interruption? Couldn't it just as well be the other way around? Why do we speak of the Thirty Years War and not the Thirty Years Peace? We speak of the historic Civil War, not the historic civil peace that came before and after. As if peace, too, did not require heroism, sacrifice, self-discipline, daring stratagems ... and have its victories and defeats just as war does.
Those who built the high house at Lakeport could not have foreseen the devastation about to come. In the 1850s, cotton was bringing an average of
You must visit the old-new mansion at Lakeport. Gaze on Old Man River flowing past and look away, look away. Old times there are not forgotten. You can almost hear the fiddle music, the laughter of the young of all ages, the basso profondo of a steamboat comin' 'round the bend to pick up the cotton bales. Nothing is ever lost, certainly not in these parts.
The high two-story house set in the midst of the cotton fields was a testament to the Delta's antebellum prosperity and the promise of still more to come, with its 17 high-ceilinged rooms, two-story portico, tapered white columns, 11-foot-high wood-paneled doors, the 26-foot-long entry hall ... all of it supported by great cypress beams from the adjacent wetlands. With high cotton came high times. What grand entrances must have been made here, what elaborate courtesies extended, what weddings celebrated!
How could its master, the good
Now, with the grand house restored after all those years of neglect, you can almost see the ghosts out for a stroll in their prewar finery. Or waiting to greet you at the top of the grand staircase. As if made for a grand fall.
Things change. And change back. The old boy on his bicycle in the peaceful neighborhood breathed deep. And shivered. All was perfection and yet ... it wasn't. He should have been enjoying the ride. And he was, but only theoretically, the way you do when you know how you're supposed to feel but don't, not really, not all the way through. He should have been refreshed; instead he was resentful.
Why? Why on earth? Why on this golden earth? It took him a moment to understand. It wasn't fall he resented. Never. How could anyone in these latitudes not love it? No, it was something else. It was the passage of time -- unrecoverable time. The intimation, more than intimation now, of mortality.
How he was going to miss all this. He missed it already. Just as he missed those who had gone before, those who had shared many such a season with him, their breath forming a little mist in the early-morning air as they threw on their coats, laughing and smiling, out to enjoy the day. The girls with their mums pinned on their warm jackets, ready to cheer at the football game, and returning with color in their cheeks. What has become of them all these years later?
The sun shone, but a shadow fell. The beauty of the physical world only brought the old truths home: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die.... Once he had put the feeling into old Ecclesiastes' words, it was gone. It was resolved now. Words will do that. Certainly the Word will. It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, all its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths peace. Now he was free to enjoy the brisk air, the warmth of the jacket on his back, the old neighborhood all new again as it donned its fall wardrobe. And off he pedaled.
For there is nothing better than to enjoy the now. Just as The Preacher in the Good Book had advised. The bountiful Now is all we've got, and it is more than enough. Certainly this time of year in
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