It is autumn: the fall. A season that reminds me of the transitoriness of all that is terrestrial. As I walked along the Tiber, I saw a dried leaf fall. Beholding it was a sheer delight. It sailed so smoothly, stopped for a while in mid-air as if wrapped in recollection, then glided gently as it graciously took leave of life and returned to the earth from which it came. What a beautiful way to depart!
As a priest I have seen and ministered to so many persons who were dying. Some of them, it would seem, did not want to depart. And yet they had to leave. Taking leave of life was such an agonizing struggle. Death almost wrenched them away with ruthless violence. Others, however, died so peacefully as if they were longing for this moment of going home, as they graciously took leave of life and glided into eternity.
Recently, I recall a dear nun friend of mine asking me whether I was afraid of growing old!
What a strange query, I thought. Must not every sunrise make way for sunset? Is not ageing part and parcel of the relentless rhythm of life? But there is an art in growing old gracefully. Old age, like the sunset, spans the golden years of one's life. Old is gold, after all! One has seen the dawn of hope, known the glory of sunrise experienced the heat of noon, and now when the shadows lengthen; one slows down at sunset as one settles down for the night's rest.
From the vantage point of advancing years one begins to understand life better. One sees the dawn of hope, as new life bounced into existence; one has enjoyed the vitality of the sunrise of teenage hood with its spirit of adventure and daring; one has learned from the torrid temptations of youth when the fire of passion raged restlessly in one's loins. And now from the vantage point of these sunset years: so distanced from it all, one senses how everything falls into place like a solved jig-saw puzzle. And one begins to understand that in life there are no mistakes; all mistakes are but learning experiences. The only mistakes are the ones that are repeated and that is because one has not learned one's lessons well!
I like to think that like that leaf that so graciously and gently took leave of life, I too will die. I will die as I have lived. Qualis vita, finis ita. If every day, I could but learn to take leave graciously; if every day, I could but open my heart a little more to love and my hand wide open to give; if every day, I could but unclench that clenched fist and extend my hand in forgiveness and friendship; if every day, I could but learn to yield and surrender; then the moment of death would become the moment of resurrection, and my departure would only be indeed a destination reached. And like that dried leaf that took leave and fell so graciously to the earth from which it came, I too would once again re-enter the cycle of life. I will have arrived!