Signs of Things to Come

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The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

Driving home this week, I noticed a single leaf floating down onto the road a little way in front of me. The sky was a crystal clear blue and the air was warm and mostly still. My windows were open and Dylan commanded my radio, reminding me that the times, they are a changin’. The leaf dropped upon my car and the airflow pulled it up and over my windshield. The details were exquisite: a big maple leaf with a yellow fringe beginning to invade its summer green, as the dark brown stem veined its length like boney fingers pointing toward Halloween.

Ah, yes, the first sign of Fall and the change in season. Caught in the moment, I wondered aloud, “What’s next?” All the signs are there as colors start to change, temperatures begin to drop, and the days grow shorter. Eventually, those indicators themselves, become the change in season, first hinting at and then completing the transformation into something different; a thing known but still new.

We see it coming. We know what it entails. We have a choice. We can heed the signs or ignore them. We can choose to prepare for the change in season or we can choose to stay as we are and let it come upon us unprepared.

For the modern reader, preparing for a change in seasons is likely not the life or death affair it was for our ancestors. For some, the dropping of the leaf was not just the sign of autumn, it was the harbinger of winter’s death to the living things of the land. The difficulties of cold and snow and all that was plenty becoming scarce. Those changes meant something, and choosing to wait for them unprepared was choosing to risk life itself.

The signs for changing seasons are obvious. What about other, more subtle signs, do we notice them? Do we see the changes ahead and prepare for them?

So often, we roll along thinking, or at least acting, like the current season will last forever. In our youth, we play games and waste time in silliness because the years ahead look infinite. We take risks and make choices feeling strong, resilient, and perhaps even impervious. It is our parents who push us to look ahead – why else go to school? We are taught to think about a future in which we need to be responsible for supporting ourselves, a future for which we must be prepared.

The signs and the preparations are there, and yet, many still seem surprised when the future arrives. A job? Commitments? Please, no!

What about those next seasons?  A spouse? Children? A house? A career? Little league? Children in school? We watch it all move along, often pulled along with it. Each milestone on the way feeling a bit odd and surprising. Sometimes we prepare but usually we don’t; we’re too busy living it…or surviving it.

Our children grow up and, suddenly, they are leaving our home. When did that happen? Of course, the signs were always there; the inevitability of it all was always known. Still, we’re caught a bit off guard, surprised by the dramatic shift in our own life. Frequently, unprepared for the unknowable aspects of all the knowns.

We see the signs of change in our jobs, careers, and companies but often ignore their implications. Sometimes it’s ignorant bliss; let’s just bob along with the current, that seems a bit more manageable. Perhaps, we don’t know what to do about it, and figure we’ll “wait and see.” Often, we’re just surviving. But the signs are there. The lone leaf falls, giving us a heads-up that a season is changing. Whether we are surviving or thriving, change is around the corner.

Seasons change for us physically as well. The slow slide of our physical capacities tells us what’s ahead. But when the aches come, or the loss of strength and quickness, we’re surprised. When did that happen? It seems sudden but we knew it was there all along. Did we adjust? Did we change our game? Did we prepare? Mostly, we wait until we were forced, while shaking our fist at the injustice of it all.

The signs appear in our relationships. The other seasons of life shift and shimmy. The friends of our youth move on, family members grow up and disappear into their own lives, relationships with our children change, and even our spouse of many years evolves. We evolve too…hopefully in the right direction. All along the way, the signs are there. Life’s indicators set up along our highways and byways, so often missed or ignored as we race by, and constantly surprising us when we get there.

Why didn’t I prepare? Why wasn’t I ready? Like a measly 401(k) balance waiting for our retirement, we knew we weren’t growing it fast enough. We didn’t need a financial planner to tell us we’d be short. The urgencies, and comforts, of now always take precedence.

We see it coming. We know much of what’s ahead. Even the “surprises” are often not really surprises. We let them come, ignoring the signs. That hurtful choice made by someone we love? The tells were there all along, we just didn’t stop long enough to see them…or listen for them. Getting fired or laid-off? It still hurts, but we pretty much knew it was coming. Even many of the “surprise” health problems we face are the direct result of the choices we’ve made. Yeah, the signs were there but sometimes the right choices are so very hard to make.

The seasons are changing. The tides and currents of our lives are pushing and pulling us to our next state of being. We see it. We feel it. We know it. Are we prepared for it? If not, are we preparing for it?

The Starks from Game of Thrones had a mantra: winter is coming. Hard things are ahead. Difficulties await. Change is happening. You will be challenged. Some preparation demands sacrifice, but not everything has to be a choice between living for today or preparing for tomorrow. The real trick is living in such a way that tomorrow is anticipated as a matter of course.

There is an edge where we can assent to a future filled with uncertainties even while we prepare for the knowns. The tension between now and what’s ahead is necessary but need not be riddled with anxiety. Faith in a manageable future is born of that tension and our own ability to simultaneously surrender to it and anticipate it.

The signs are there. Opportunities abound and struggles will come. The seasons will change. Perhaps it’s time to stop being surprised and start recognizing the signs. Maybe it’s time to heed their warnings…and, their invitations.

  • Dawn Sparks

    “…and their invitations” I wonder how often we miss that part until it’s in the rearview mirror? Makes me think of the Brian McLaren quote, “What we focus on determines what we miss.”

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