Autumn Light

N O V E M B E R   2 0 1 8

for Pierre Delattre                                      

Walking through a park you pass an old man sitting on a bench. He’s watching children out on the grass playing and tumbling in the fallen leaves. You see the wrinkles and lines in his old face as you pass. What kind of life carved those lines? Hieroglyphics of stories even he probably can’t remember. On a whim you sit on a bench down the path across from him, and wait.             

autumn lightYou wonder about him. He just sits there watching the children, or looking up into the trees. You wonder what he’s thinking. Is he thinking? Maybe not. Does he have ambitions? Does he make plans?

A little breeze scatters leaves along the path, and more leaves flutter down from the branches to join them. You wonder what it’s like to be old. You decide to pretend you’re as old as he is, with the majority of your life behind you — just another old person on a bench in a park somewhere on an autumn afternoon.

You imagine first that being old must feel a little cranky, that you’ll be annoyed that your youth has passed and that your body hurts and no one cares about you. But then you look over at the old man and notice he has a slight smile on his lips. He doesn’t look cranky, if anything he looks contented.

So you try feeling that way, contented. You put the same slight smile on your lips. You look lazily out across the park. A thought comes up about your next appointment but you know the appointment is still two hours from now, plenty of time, and you already know what needs to be accomplished when the time comes. Other thoughts float by but you’re an old person now and you just pretend those thoughts don’t matter. They’re not really interesting anyway.

You invite yourself to feel fine just sitting there with nothing needing to be done. Just sitting, enjoying the autumn light sifting through the trees. At first it feels a little odd, this sitting quietly without the familiar pressure of wanting to distract yourself or get the next thing done. But you keep on with the experiment, letting yourself feel old, contented and at ease.

And then something extraordinary happens, all by itself. You couldn’t explain it if you tried. It’s as if the space between things goes right through things, right through you and the park and the old man and the children playing. You sense a spaciousness and closeness that’s so familiar it feels like it’s you, and yet it’s everywhere, completely empty of anything and yet full of everything at the same time. And the autumn light is just the same — the slant of the sun seems like it’s passing through your body and through the trees and the ground, as if everything is transparent even though everything’s right here too.

And there’s something else, something even more intimate. The familiar place that’s felt like the “you” inside of you, the you behind your eyes, the place of you that agrees with itself and quarrels with itself and makes judgments about everything, that place is suddenly so sweetly quiet and wide open and transparent too, just like space. You’ve never felt anything like this before. There’s an expansiveness everywhere that’s so vast and at the same time so intimate and lovely. It feels like you’re in love with everything! Your heart has burst open. The enormity of what you’re feeling is so unexpected and beautiful that you wonder if you’re going crazy.

You look down the path at the old man on his bench and see he’s looking at you. He winks.