|||||Love Minus Zero/No Limit by Bob Dylan||]|
For many years the late Rev. O. P. Kretzmann, longtime President of Valparaiso University, wrote a column in the The Cresset entitled "The Pilgrim." As the title was inspired by "The Pilgrim's Progress," the line "All the trumpets sounded for him on the other side," accompanied each column. Kretzmann was a master wordsmith whose writing always strikes deep chords with me. My all-time favorite column is one called the "September Leaf." It is basically a reflection on fall and the end of life, but also life's new beginning in the resurrection. The leaves are now turning here and the days have become crisp, my most deeply beloved time of year. In honor of this, I reproduce here the entire text of Kretzmann's "September Leaf." It is a bit lengthy, but I commend it for your meditation and edification. As I was typing it in, I also became aware of the passing into glory of Professor Kurt Marquart, so I also offer this in his honor and memory, as he is another pilgrim for whom all the trumpets have now sounded on the other side. Requiescat in pace.
by O. P. Kretzmann
I wonder if anyone has ever been fully prepared for the coming of autumn….Perhaps as little as we are ready for the end of anything in life….July and August meander along in apparent endlessness, one bright or sullen day after another….There seems to be no change….The crickets grow louder, the dust lies dreaming on the trees and bushes, the thunder comes with every other twilight….Only when I look across the fence into my neighbor’s yard and see the apples turn red can I tell that summer is waning and the time of harvest is near….Then, inevitably and suddenly, there comes a morning when everything seems changed….From my window I observe that the maple has a few leaves which are brown….Others are already on the ground....The crickets chirp in a lower key, and a new note of melancholy appears in the whistle of the train down the valley….The leaves begin to fall, at first lazily and alone, but then faster and faster as the wind rises and the travail of change comes over the earth….The order and logic of inevitability are in them as they lie in their seemingly haphazard places….Thoreau knew what their rustling and whispering say to us who walk through our autumn world:
“It is pleasant to walk over the beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves. How beautifully they go to their graves, how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould—painted of a thousand hues and fit to make the beds of us living. So they troop to their last resting place, light and frisky. They put on no weeds, but merrily they go scampering over the earth, selecting the spot where the bodies of men are moldering beneath, and meeting them half way. How many flutterings before they rest quietly in their graves! They that soared so loftily, how contentedly they return to dust again and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree, and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as well as to flutter on high! They teach us how to die!
“When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery pleasant to walk in. I love to wander and muse over them in their graves. Here are no lying nor vain epitaphs. What though you own no lot at Mount Auburn? Your lot is surely cast somewhere in this vast cemetery, which has been consecrated from of old. You need attend no auction to secure a place. There is room enough here. The loosestrife shall bloom and the huckleberry bird sing over your bones. The woodman and the hunter shall be your sextons, and the children shall tread upon the borders as much as they will.”
This, then, is the season of the elegy and the mourner….Certainly, however, there are meaning and purpose and knowledge, year after year, in the falling of a leaf from a dying tree….Once more we see the great paradox of life and time: To live well and greatly, our journeying through the world must be a repeated experience of death….We die, as the leaf dies, to the immaturities of childhood to be reborn for the responsibilities of maturity….We die to selfishness to live for others….We die to resentment against life for not giving us everything we desire to the glad acceptance of its hard discipline of sorrow….We die to sin to live to God….We die to the noise of time to live for the whisper of eternity….Surely this is always and forever true: If we have not learned to die, we have not learned to live….
This, here and now, on this gray September morning, I find curiously comforting….More than any other generation for two thousand years we, the first-born of the twentieth century, have succumbed to the fatal pressure of immediacy….We live in a world of today’s headlines, up-to-the minute broadcasts, this hour’s problems….Our watchwords are “here,” “now,” “today.” The September leaf drifting quietly to the earth in its good time tells the whole story of all the names and tears of our dark age….They, too, shall pass away….Their hour is as definite as the hour of the September leaf….No, there is nothing new in all this, but it is desperately worth repeating in an hour when we are living only for the hour and looking for the man of the hour and fear what the next hour will bring….Many years ago Washington Irving left Westminster Abby at dusk on an autumn day:
“I endeavored to form some arrangement in my mind of the objects I had been contemplating, but found they were already fallen into indistinctness and confusion. Names, inscriptions, trophies, had all become confounded in my recollection, though I had scarcely taken my feet from off the threshold. What, thought I, is this vast assemblage of sepulchers but a treasury of humiliation: a huge pile of reiterated homilies on the emptiness of renown and the certainty of oblivion! It is indeed the empire of death; his great shadowy place where he sits in state mocking at the relics of human glory and spreading dust and forgetfulness on the monuments of princes. How idle a boast, after all, is the immortality of a name! Time is ever silently turning over his pages; we are too much engrossed by the story of the present to think of the characters and anecdotes that gave interest to the past; and each age is a volume thrown aside to be speedily forgotten. The idol of today pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection and will in turn be supplanted by his successor of tomorrow. ‘Our fathers,’ says Sir Thomas Browne, ‘find their graves in our short memories and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors.’ History fades into fable, fact becomes clouded with doubt and controversy, the inscription moulders from the tablet, the statue falls from the pedestal. Columns, arches, pyramids—what are they but heaps of sand? And their epitaphs, but characters written in the dust? What is the security of a tomb or the perpetuity of an embalmment? The remains of Alexander the Great have been scattered to the wind, and his empty sarcophagus is now the mere curiosity of a museum. ‘The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth; Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.’
“What, then, is to insure this pile which towers above me from sharing the fate of mightier mausoleums? The time must come when its gilded vaults which now spring so loftily shall lie in rubbish beneath the feet; when instead of the sound of melody and praise, the wind shall whistle through the broken arches and the owl hoot from the shattered tower—when the garish sunbeam shall break into these gloomy mansions of death and the ivy twine round the fallen column; and the foxglove hang its blossoms about the nameless urn, as if in mockery of the dead. Thus man passes away; his name perishes from record and recollection; his history is a tale that is told, and his very monument becomes a ruin.”
And so the September leaf joins the great in Westminster Abbey….Nor is there, except in the light of Easter, much difference between the tombs in the Abbey and the hollow in which the leaf finally comes to rest, sheltered from the tossing of the wind….We hear John Donne on the fragments of Queen Jezebel: “The dust of great persons’ graves is speechless, too. It says nothing, it distinguishes nothing. They shall not say, ‘This is Jezebel’; not only not wonder that it is, nor pity that it should be, but they shall not say, they shall not know, this is Jezebel.”…
The lesson of the September leaf is, of course, not complete….It speaks of change and death, but not of immortality….Slowly but surely we move from the hollow in which the leaf rests and the graves of the great to the high altitudes of faith….Nothing which I observe in spring or in autumn tells me anything about the intimations of immortality which lie deep in the human soul and in divine revelation….Between them and human reason hangs an immovable veil…."Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.”…As far as my mind can reach, the end comes when the curtain goes down….All that begins when the curtain goes up again lies on the other side of visibility….Beyond the nature of existence which alone can be the object of scientific and reasonable knowledge there may be something in the human soul which desires deep eternity, but this desire is no proof for it….For that assurance I must turn to Easter….The Christian faith would have died long ago if a miracle had not daily repeated itself—a miracle which remains just as great and incomprehensible as it was 1,900 years ago….The miracle is that a human soul in the face of death, loaded down with guilt which it can never make good, finds rest and immortality in an Eternal High Priest who loved the dying even unto death….This is the one unshakable foundation for our faith in immortality and eternity….The September leaf is not homesick for the earth from which it came….We, however, are, and ought to be, because the warm, silent cradle of the grave is the open door to our home….