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UnknownIt’s been almost 50 years since that day. Teachers were crying, which was confusing for those of us in elementary school. Speculation was that the principal yelled at them. It was the worst thing we could think of that could make a teacher cry. Mr. Norman was huge – bigger than most fathers – and fierce. Word had it that a summons to his office was worse than horrible. That knowledge alone kept most of us within the limits of acceptable behavior. Then, the xylophone notes came over the PA system. He spoke. We knew it was him – he was the only adult male in the building other than the janitor. The janitor never made announcements. He sounded sad and, well…scared. Something was very wrong.

As children, we didn’t know what to expect. I guess the adults around us didn’t either. Churches had services that night. They were impromptu events on a cold, dark Friday night that spoke of sorrow, fear and hope. School was called off on Monday so we could mourn the death of our president with the nation. We curled up on our parents’ bed to watch the funeral. The flag covered casket slowly meandered through Washington on a horse drawn wagon. There was no rider, simply boots placed backwards in the stirrups, the symbol of a fallen leader looking back at his troops for the last time.

The country was in shock.

The Bishop who presided over the service that day read a passage said to be John F. Kennedy’s favorite from Ecclesiastes 3. Pete Seeger put the scripture to music, using the King James translation and a few added words for emphasis. Most of us can recite the verses from listening to hit recordings by The Limeliters, Judy Collins and, most famously, the Byrds. To everything turn, turn, turn; there is a season turn, turn, turn…and a time for every purpose under heaven…A time to be born, a time to die…a time to sow, a time to reap…a time to weep, a time to laugh…a time for war, a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late…

The leaves have been brilliant this fall. It’s as if they are changing in slow motion with each day becoming more spectacular than the day before. It would be easy to wish they could stay this way forever, yet we know that they won’t. They can’t. This is a season and it will change. A strong wind will come, colder weather will set in and soon autumn will give way to winter. And, in like fashion, we know that winter is embedded with the hope and anticipation of spring. Seasons…

We often hear about the human lifespan in terms of the seasons. Birth and childhood resemble spring; youth and young adulthood are summer; autumn is middle age; and winter is the winding down as we approach death. That scenario makes me like winter even less than I already do!

The thing is, the seasons can also teach us about life events, just like the rhythmic extremes in Ecclesiastes 3. This is a scripture of hope. When life seems to be cold, dark and just plain miserable we are assured that the new life of spring is coming. There is a season turn, turn, turn…

Our culture seems to tell us that everything is going to be wonderful if we simply purchase the right toothpaste, car, deodorant, laundry soap or beer. Isn’t advertising wonderful! If only it was that simple. Some religions have similar formulas using their brand of faith as the key to living life without stress, negative change or ‘winter’ moments.

But, it doesn’t work that way. Even when we are in the good times, we know there will be a change we never expected no matter how much we try to insulate ourselves from the parts of life that are nothing less than awful. Yet even in the midst of the muck, there can be glimmers of hope. There is a season turn, turn, turn…

We went for a walk last night. I hesitated when we saw a man and woman slowing down ahead of us. They were scruffy and carrying backpacks. He had a long, unkempt beard. Their clothes were dirty. They turned toward us and I inappropriately expected them to ask for any amount of money we were willing to share. They didn’t. Instead, they asked if they could pet our 5-month old puppy. Lucy is cute, but has no manners. She will jump on anyone and thinks a moving arm is the best chew-toy in the world. Amazingly, she sat calmly as the woman stroked her head and ears, as if she knew something we couldn’t comprehend. When the woman hugged her, her coat opened enough to show how frail her body was. Yet, her face beamed with joy as she petted Lucy and received puppy-kisses. As we walked away we heard her tell her partner, “I feel better now.” Who were they? What was their story? There is a season turn, turn, turn…

This isn’t to say that God has somehow caused or predestined life’s events. It just happens – the good, the bad and the stuff we would rather not talk about to anyone except our psychologist because she has a professional obligation to keep our deepest, darkest secrets private. Some things happen because of our own choices, good and bad, while others are the result of the choices outside of our control that seem to bubble up out of nowhere. The Ecclesiastes poem simply gives us a perspective on the rhythm of life. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t going to be. But, the next season is coming and with it there will be a new set of joys and challenges. Some seasons will be big, like the death of a president, and some seasons start out in despair but will become studded with twinkles of hope and joy, like puppy-kisses.

It’s important to understand that God is in the middle of everything beaconing us to trust that we are loved more than we can possibly imagine and whatever our pain looks like, it too shall pass – even if said passage seems to resemble the progression of an extraordinarily large kidney stone. The nation wept that day. But, the sun still rose, babies were born and leaves drifted from trees. Lucy still grabs my arm with her puppy mouth. But, for that moment in time, she seemed to know she was the hope necessary to help a homeless woman feel better. God is in the midst of all that is good, bad and just plain crappy and unfailingly reaches out to let us know there is no place in all of creation that we can’t be found. No, not to find, judge and punish us – but to surround us with hope and love so we can go on, ready to encounter the next season.

 

Turn, turn, turn (lyrics)

Words-adapted from The Bible, book of Ecclesiastes; Music-Pete Seeger

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up,a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

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