On the first day of fall, a white butterfly hovers over the wildflowers in the abandoned lot behind my house as I heat a cup of tea in the microwave. END the light flashes on the digital display as the buzzer sounds. Shaken out of my summer reverie, I’m jolted into recognition that the sun is retracting its long arm of light as harvest gains momentum and the days shorten in the northern hemisphere.
Equinox comes, a moment of balance, with two feet parallel on a plank over a ball, one side slipping toward dissolution and the other toward creation. While Persephone descends in the north, she emerges into the arms of her loving mother Demeter in the south. The goddess Hekate, Persephone’s companion in both worlds, represents the cycle of life and death that holds us all.
This fall season, I share Demeter’s grief over the loss of the radiant maiden Kore. My daughter, a child of my middle age, brought home her first serious boyfriend this past week. I’m both elated and sad; my maiden daughter is no more. She is twenty-four and a woman in her own right, but I remember the laughing babe in my arms, the little girl tugging at my skirt, and, the distraught teen seeking my advice as she navigated the choppy waters of school, friendship, and spiders. I am stung by the poignancy of life’s quick-paced tempo that dances us across the boundaries of a role that was once ours and shifts us to a different tempo with a different purpose.
On Sunday morning, the last day of summer, my daughter and her boyfriend sat on our deck eating heart shaped pancakes drizzled with the last of the syrup made from the sugar maple tree that arched protectively above them and sent, with every gust of wind, whirligigs spinning down onto their plates. I, the protective human mother, intruded myself into their duo, and my son joined us having cooked the last of the pancake batter into round flapjacks that he and I shared. It became a family breakfast, and we laughed and reminisced together while the toes of my daughter and her lover touched in secret alliance beneath the table. Change was in the air. I wondered which of these maple seeds would bury itself in the earth and sprout in the spring?
There is a moment in the myth when Demeter has given up her search for Persephone and comes to the home of a family in Eleusis. They try to ease her sorrow. When Iambe or Baubo, a brazen and raunchy older woman bares her pudenda and indulges in ribald jests, Demeter smiles. Baubo is a good presence to summon into our lives as crones. She reminds us to laugh, to revel in our physical selves, even as we age, and our raw sexuality, even if a bit diminished now, which is part of the life force that powers existence itself.
Our role as crones is to laugh, sometimes at ourselves, and to dance giving ourselves over to the pulsing rhythm of the drum which is the heartbeat of life. We have circled round the wheel of the year again and again and drunk the elixir of wisdom distilled from all life’s joy and pain.
In her introduction to the Haitian folktale “Owl,” Diane Wolkstein describes her impressions of the older woman who first told the story and performed the dance at its conclusion. Her hips swayed with “beauty, grace and sexuality” because, “of course, it is the old women who know how to dance. They have lived” (The Magic Orange Tree 31).
Indeed, we have, and we’re not done yet. Baubo reminds us to engage with life in new ways on our own terms. How many things crones are called upon to do! How rich, varied, and nuanced is our experience. There is no one size fits all, but each of us can contribute our skills and knowledge to the world as we are able. The challenges of the future are great. We sense deep within our bones the importance of the natural life/death continuum in which each passing generation leaves behind seeds that create life anew.
Youth today see the spring of their lives polluted and roiled by storms. Perhaps, some of us are called to add our seasoned voices to the youthful ones warning that the time to take action to prevent the worst ravages of climate change is now. Perhaps others are called to find ways to come together despite ideological differences to find common purpose to save this one blue planet that is our home.
Together, let us raise our voices in celebration and thanksgiving for the abundant harvest that fuels our bodies and enables us to fight on.