As we age, the brain plays curious tricks on us. Time, for one thing, seems to speed up, although it does not, of course. It is merely that our own understanding of the mutability of life becomes more acute. Our awareness of change, and the relentless pace of change, intensifies as we age.
When we are young, we have a seemingly endless amount of time stretching ahead of us. But as we enter middle age, and then old age, it is clear that our time is inevitably limited. And apart from the ever more rapid recurrence of landmark annual events (Wimbledon, a particular horse race, Proms concerts, 4th of July: we always know it is early May by the arrival of the FA Cup Final, for example) what seems to mark the clicking of the shears most often and most obviously is the endless round of the seasons, rolling on regardless of what we seek to make of our small and insignificant lives, and amply demonstrated in the world around us.
Our gardens. The landscape. Change is constant. Inevitable, inexorable.
Last night, we had a fierce wind squall. Just one. It lasted no more than a minute, and was, in its way, rather alarming. The suddenness, the roaring noise, the feeling of an invisible and irresistible force battering at the plate glass doors which bowed and complained.
What was most dramatic, though, was the effect of the wind on the magnificent ornamental cherry tree just outside our front door. For a few weeks now it has been literally groaning with the most exquisite light pink and white blossom, as it does every year, lending us joy and a sense of wonder every time we walk by it or look out.
In the last few days, a few of those blossoms have been fluttering to the ground, their work done. The tree has been a mine for our local bees, who have been harvesting it for all they’re worth before disappearing back to wherever their hive is, but they have been fewer in recent days, and now the slightest gust of wind brings petals down on our heads. It is a little like a shower made of flowers.
When the squall hit in all its demanding force, the tree bent almost double, so we feared it might break. And in what seemed an instant, it released a waterfall of colour to the ground. After the wind Gods had passed on, it seemed suddenly somewhat denuded. Uncloaked. And in that instant, it seemed that soft and gentle Spring had come, and gone, and all that was left now was the aching, baking heat of summer. The ground looked like a hailstorm had passed, but the hail was flowers. It seemed terribly sad, and permanent, and like something was lost.
But that is only one way to view the event. Another way, entirely, is to celebrate the new look of the tree. Now one can perceive that it is newly dressed in bright green leaves that shimmer and shine in the morning sun, with their own pleasing beauty. Some blossoms still adhere to the tree, but now they drop pretty much constantly, eddying in the breezes.
But where each delicate flower falls now lives the possibility of a cherry, red and pretty and hopeful, like a young girl’s first experiment with lipstick.
And without the coming heat of summer, driving in on us now as it is with blind and careless certainty, no fruit would duly ripen on the tree. The gorgeous bird life that we are blessed with in all seasons would have nothing to squabble about as they flit from branch to branch just a yard or two from where we sip our cooling drinks, just as without the blossoms the bees would have nothing to do.
As far as nature is concerned, we are mere bystanders. Nature understands the cycle of change, the endless mutability, the replacing of one joy with another. And that’s the thing about change. Change is a way of remembering what was there before change occurred by sharpening our awareness of our life, making us more thoughtful, more “mindful”, in modern jargon. Change brings things into stark focus, as only loss can. But loss can be a beginning, not just an end.
Change is what we make it. We can either be confronted by it, or embrace it as unknowable, unavoidable, and inevitable. Seeking what comes after with the same enthusiasm with which we celebrated what went before. More than 2000 years ago, Socrates said “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”
My mother, who was much taken with what she called her “little sayings”, often remarked, when change happened, that “It’s an ill-wind that blows no-one any good.”
The green leaves and the tiny cherries agree. Everything to its time, and then round we go again.