So let us pick up the stones over which we stumble, friends, and build altars. Let us listen to the sound of breath in our bodies. Let us listen to the sounds of our own voices, of our own names, of our own fears. Let us name the harsh light and soft darkness that surround us. Let’s claw ourselves out from the graves we’ve dug. Let’s lick the earth from our fingers. Let us look up and out and around. The world is big and wide and wild and wonderful and wicked, and our lives are murky, magnificent, malleable, and full of meaning. Oremus. Let us pray.
Padraig O Tuama
The season turned decidedly toward autumn last week. Gloomy, rainy, breezy, chilly to the point where jackets were at least contemplated, if not worn, and umbrella-ed pedestrians dodged each other in passing on the sidewalks. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. A seasonal shift was in the air.
On Saturday, I served coffee and orange juice under the donut tent at Farmers Market, an annual service rendered for the past 15 Septembers or so, a good cause raising funds to award educational scholarships for women. Friends who belong to the organization recruited me, but I didn’t need much coaxing. The duties are pleasant and not too complicated. I work the 6:30 to 9:30 shift, which is a little early to be up and about, but when I arrive, I always wonder why I don’t do it more often.
One of the veterans of the donut production line says both donut and produce sales at the market have declined in recent years. Theories range from health considerations (donuts, after all) to the proliferating popularity of competing farmers markets, to the ready availability of quality produce at Pete’s, Whole Foods and sundry other grocers.
But competitors don’t have a circle of minstrels serenading shoppers or the high concentration of well-met neighbors schmoozing in clumps within these friendly confines, and, of course, donuts after all.
A number of customers say they need a cup of coffee and faces confirm it. Often they’re accompanied by energized wee ones who don’t share the sleepy vibe of their more slowly moving guardians. Some of these little folk make their own request with adorable upturned eyes and well-rehearsed politeness.
An old-timer specifically asks for “high-octane,” which you don’t hear much anymore. Some customers know me and pass along updates. I learn about the death of a longtime neighbor across the street. Another tells me that, after the death of his son, he found out about a daughter he never knew he had. We marvel at life’s strange, unpredictable, and sometimes wonderful twists and turns.
I’m comforted to see how much diversity there is in line — ages, ethnicities, hair styles — sometimes within a single family. Young-adult couples come through, too, which reassures me even more. It’s a good mix, the way it ought to be. It comprises a representative sample of those who make up our shared community.
One of my co-workers notes that at the end of each season, he’s ready to be done with it and eager to get on with the next. That too, I suppose, is the way it ought to be.
The seasons condition us to welcome what comes next though I’m always reluctant to let go of summer. Yet even I eventually come around. Serving coffee at Farmers Market is a reminder that it’s time to put my seasonal turn signal on.
One of the pleasures of growing older is setting such markers, familiar milestones in the year’s progress that give us something to look forward to and generate a little excitement for what’s to come. Serving coffee at Farmers Market is one of those markers.
The day before was another. I finished four days down in the Loop, tagging along with a group of priests, some still active in official Church circles, the rest active in the many other ministries life affords that allow us to exercise the human desire for service. Aging with grace, these 78-year-olds, who studied in Rome together during the Second Vatican Council in the ’60s when the Catholic Church opened the windows and, in a fairy tale moment, embraced healthy change, still come together every few years for reunions. Witty and wise and a refreshing antidote to the underside of Catholic clericalism, they are a reminder, as the stage manager in Our Town puts it, that creation is not just about quantity. It’s also about quality.
Four days of quality reminded me that life is good and a gift and worth living — right up till the end.
On my way home, I stopped in Daley Plaza, where food trucks had gathered to satisfy myriad hungers, but I was looking ahead a couple of months to the German holiday market that fills this space following Thanksgiving and leading to Christmas. Wandering the stalls and sharing mugs of mulled wine, huddled in the warming house, is a cherished seasonal marker, a place with many quality memories attached over the past 20 years.
I marveled at the twists and turns a year takes and the fact that, from time to time, I find myself living the kind of life I always wanted to live and always imagined living, and how, from time to time, these markers remind me how much I love being alive.
Seasons, it seems, turn not just all around us, but also within.