I find it hard to turn the calendar page to September. September generally brings some of the rarest days of the year, some glorious days that are among nature’s best. There are luminous days and nights that brim with stars. The calming, cooling touch of September breezes bring the relaxation from summer heat. There is the sparkling freshness of a September morning, and the special softening light of September six o’clock. Those soft September twilights fold over the land.
However, September is always tinged with sorrow. These loveliest days of the year also bring the knowledge that time moves and everything comes to an end. The poet Thomas Parsons caught the mood of September well:
The world is brighter than before –
Why should our hearts be duller?
Sorrow and the scarlet leaf.
Sad thoughts and Sunny weather!
This glory and this grief. (A Song for September)
September brings Labor Day, the day that ends the summer as surely as a period ends a sentence. Summer is relinquished, summer has lost its grip. For me, September brings a sadness that another end has come into life. Summer has come and gone, has come and gone. My heart seems to sense time moving and I become uneasy; time passing, passing like a leaf falling, time passing, fading like a flower, time passing like a river flowing, time passing. For me, September is time hastening. “I know that summer, scarcely here, is gone until another year” (Edna St, Vincent Millay, The End of Summer). I have to suppress tears each September when I leave the beach reluctantly. More and more I think of life as a series of heartbreaking good-byes, of having and letting go, embracing and parting. I’ve come to fear time itself—the slow grinding of time.
In September the sun edges south, days shorten and nights deepen. September brings the crickets and the katydids growing loud in the lengthening nights. The crickets chirp and the katydids rasp as they have chirped and rasped since long before humans appeared on this earth. They provide the music of the September night, the melancholy voice of summer’s ending, a summer gone. It is like taps for another summer. The cool weather will silence them.
September is a month that gleams with goldenrod. There is goldenrod everywhere. Thoreau called it “spilled sunshine.” But there are also the dying gardens, waning flowers living their last days. Trees begin to look withered at the tops, and the maples begin to show flashes of red and yellow September is the month when birds gather in restless flocks, migration on their minds. The swallows and orioles leave early. Their restless voices is the sound of the need to go, the excitement of migration. Others will be on their way before month’s end.
My own awareness of time has become constant and even oppressive. I’ve become very conscious of my earthly allotment of time. The sovereignty of God over the length of our lives is clearly taught in Scripture. Job 14:5 states “Man’s days are determined. You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” There’s Psalm 139.16: “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”
The Cloud of Unknowing states “so take good care of time, and how you spend it. Nothing is more precious than time. God is the giver of time. At the judgment there will be an account of the spending of time.” So many of the days and years of those allotted to me have passed. The Second Vatican Council, in its text Gaudium et Spes, 26, makes the interesting observation that God’s Spirit directs the unfolding of time. I wonder how many of my allotted years have passed with their thousands of days and hundreds of thousands of hours. How many more days will God’s patience still grant me? How many more chances will I have to welcome the summer.
Pope John Paul II put things well: “Time belongs to God. This is not our own. We are allotted a certain period of time in this world. Then we move into what is called God’s time—eternity. We try not to waste time, rather to use it effectively.” There is an appointed time for everything. Our days are numbered. There is an appointed end of all things. Our term of life is fixed.
In Hopkin’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland” the transitoriness of life is compared with the sand slipping inevitably through an hourglass in stanza four:
I am soft sift
In an hourglass —at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
And it crowds and it combs to the fall.
In Greek mythology there is a titan named Kronos. His name means time. He was regarded as a lord of the universe. Kronos swallowed the days. He was greedy. The devourer, seeking what he might devour.
Lately I’ve a sense that it is the time for something to happen. It is the time for an event to happen, or the time for an emotion to be felt. There is the sense of a time which goes with the fullness of things.
Always I have wanted to salvage some moments from the rush of time, to be able to find ways of freezing time and preserve certain events from Kronos and the flow of time.
I’m intrigued by what John Haught says about the transient character of a moment (What is God p. 25). There is the transient character of the moment. It is impossible to hold on to it. It slips out of your grasp. Where did it go? It was present a few moments ago, but now another present has slipped into its place. Did the earlier moment slip into nothingness? Did it undergo an absolute perishing? Where did it come from in the first place?