Changing seasons, changing lives

'Transformation - that's what it all seems to be about. If leaves can do it year after year, millennia after millennia, perhaps we might give it a try, too'

Carolyn North, a Putney resident for a little over a year, regularly writes on her website a brief piece, "like a prose poem, about the state of the world through the lens of her daily life," she says. "My purpose has been to help reassure folks that we can get through these hard times if we remember to do it together."

Autumn has come and gone here in Vermont, red and yellow leaves raining into the air, covering the brown ground with a carpet of color. Oh, it was gorgeous! I was sorry to see the green of summer go, but the process of change is its own magical performance.

For me, after so many years in California with its subtle shifting of seasons, I love the Northeast's slam-bang seasonal dramas that change colors and vistas almost overnight, opening long views where, just days ago, dark forest filled the spaces. It is like changing sets between acts in the theater, shifting the mood that prepares the audience for the next scene of the play.

Nature, here on the ground, seems to do it that quickly - overnight, in fact - forcing us to get out the flannel underwear and cook up hearty soups while we're still scratching our mosquito bites!

I love this place, although I feel like an anxious mother fearing for her child, because the economy here is broken and folks who cannot quite make do are reluctantly leaving. But, I plead with them, it probably won't be much better almost anywhere they go because this breakdown may be the template for our times pretty much everywhere! Please stay, I tell them, and work with the community you know!

So, how do we shift to ways of surviving together, when change is not only inevitable, but is also necessary, given our lopsided economy and political absurdities?

* * *

The news from our longtime neighborhood in Berkeley is that nobody is safe there anymore. Masked desperados swarm the streets with guns, smashing windows and stealing cars and battering old ladies out walking their dogs on the sidewalk.

It's happening right where Herb and I raised our children, letting them out to run free and play Snake in the Grass with the other kids on the block. That was then. Now our street has become a war zone!

In my Pollyanna soul, I have to see all this as a larger event, the end of an era, as the old, dysfunctional order inevitably falls apart - the politics, the economy, the racism - and good riddance to it!

But how shall we live, we ask, and what will we have to give up in the process? How will we mimic the grace of maple leaves curling, letting go of their supporting branches and, as their colors change, drift like slow-twirling dancers to the ground?

* * *

I wonder if learning how to dance, itself, may be a clue, practicing how to move beautifully through space to the sounds of the world. And finding our voices to sing its changing song.

And telling stories to one another of our lives and our peoples' histories, moving freely and dressed gorgeously in every color of the world as we learn who we each are and where we have come from.

And learning, not only from one another, but from our whole extraordinary universe through so much time and space.

And peering through clouds of knowing even older and further than that, wondering who was here before, what they looked like and where they lived, what they worked at and what they knew.

Could we learn how to listen to them, laugh with them, recognize them?

* * *

Actually, this has been happening in Indigenous cultures since time immemorial, and now it is happening right here in our cities and theaters, in the imaginations of our young artists and ingenious scientists and onstage.

They are here, our young heroes and heroines, hidden in plain sight - just look for them on your gizmos! They are small enough to fit into the palms of our hands, and big enough to change the world!

That is where I first discovered Lin-Manuel Miranda, a young person of Puerto Rican descent living in upper Manhattan, whose brilliant mind and fertile heart have created, produced, and starred in musicals that have taken our country by storm.

With beatbox hip-hop music, fabulous choreography, and drama, Miranda has shifted the common prototype of what a musical is, but more importantly, who we are. He shows us in all our colorful differences, as humans of all races, evolving from the assumed prototype of white-skinned Europeans (the colonizers) to a mélange of beauty and brilliance from everywhere on the planet (the people)!

Singing loud and dancing fast to a hip-hop beat that brims with fast-track life, the actors in these productions portray us as vivid and passionate and alive with a street-smart clarity that makes us recognize ourselves as quite beautiful.

I am gobsmacked! I believe this young Lin-Manuel from Uptown Manhattan, and his fabulous casts of multitalented, multiethnic actors who make a point of inviting whole grades of schoolkids to their shows at $10 a ticket (unlike the coveted tickets for grown-ups at $100 a pop).

This alone may be a world-changer of a whole new stripe, and it may well be changing our societies more effectively - for the better - than any political party has ever even dreamed of!

Give 'em a big hand, folks! They've got chutzpah! Who else might dream up almost two hours of fabulous hip-hop to tell the story of the founding fathers of the U.S. Constitution? Really!

It's a whole new take on who we are, rapping to a modern beat, and a whole new way of presenting art to an audience of, ideally, everyone. And teaching that to the children. And, perhaps, also to the rest of us who long to not be so afraid, who wish enough peace and quiet - and time - to just do what we most love to do.

* * *

To know that this lifetime is our season, and before we know it, it will be over, so it's now or...not yet? And to know that that's OK, as long as we deeply live our lives in the world while we are here on earth and get started doing what we most love doing.

I watched the leaves, so green previously, drift dancelike in the air, already burnished into orange and yellow, landing softly on still-green grass and settling in as they soften with morning dew and evening mists. Their season was almost over, but their new life had just begun to touch the waiting ground, where the mystery of transformation will take over.

Transformation - that's what it all seems to be about.

If leaves can do it year after year, millennia after millennia, perhaps we might give it a try, too. I mean, we're pretty smart, aren't we? And our young ones are out there doing amazing things, so what's keeping the rest of us?

It's scary?

Yup, you bet it's scary.

But so what?

This Voices Essay was submitted to The Commons.

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