How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun. – Vincent Van Gogh
A blanket of tiny yellow flowers lies on our front lawn. While I can never remember the name of the tree that is shedding these dry bits of petal, I can’t remember another autumn where they were quite so profuse. We all trail them in the house, and they’re stuck in my daughter Sophie’s carpet. I pick them out of my hair and shake them from the bathroom rug. In the morning, when I get in my car, they fly off the windshield and past the back windows, like snow. The yellow flowers that cover our lawn are a harbinger for another impending transformation; the yellowing and then browning of the leaves as they drop to the ground and leave the tree bare and dormant for months.
There’s something about fall that makes me happy and melancholy at once. Even in Los Angeles, where the seasons are barely delineated and where you have to pay attention to notice them at all, I feel the subtle changes in the air, the sense of expectation as school begins for children and the days grow shorter. But I also sense the sameness of it, year after year. I’m not sure why it’s fall with its melancholy and excitement that stands out so starkly to me, as each of the seasons come and go and come again. This year, I watch my sons Henry and Oliver grow up and outward as they go back to school. Change is evident in the shoes that they outgrow and the almost imperceptible daily growth in their height, evidenced in the one morning when I look at both of them and think surely they must have each grown an inch overnight. It’s evident in their faces and in the expressions in their eyes. Really, typical children are constantly in the process of change, from baby to boy to young man to adult. It is all good.
I thought of the tree and the yellow flowers and the blanket over the green grass, sweet and comforting in its sameness.
For my daughter Sophie, though, who is severely disabled with a seizure disorder and developmental disabilities, much is the same, and sometimes everything is the same. She is entirely dependent on us and has shown very little measurable development; the kinds of development our culture calls “normal.” She communicates only through her eyes or with gesture, which I suppose could be perceived as melancholy or even sad, but it isn’t. There is a sort of stillness to her that defies description, something ineffable. As I sit with Sophie today, on a late September afternoon in 2015, I realize that despite the often difficult times we have endured in the last twenty years, there is a peace to the fact that Sophie is, in some essential sense, the same. Like the tree, that greens out and drops her flowers, her green turns to yellow, then shrivels and browns and then she will be still and bare and dormant. And then before I know it, the velvety shoots will appear and it’ll all begin again. While this can be exhausting, this sameness, it can also be exhilaratingly beautiful.
When Sophie came home today, we sat on the grass for a few minutes and lay briefly back under the tree. The yellow flowers kept drifting down and around, on top of us. We got up and went for a walk around the block, and when we got back to the house, Sophie was very tired. I put some music on in her room, and she lay down on her bed. I was going to leave her and go do some busy work, but instead I lay down next to her and held her hand. My palm was against hers, dry and warm, the same as it always has been, and we both looked out the window at the palm trees swaying in the back yard. I slowed my breathing, waiting for Sophie’s own. I wondered whether meditation could fill up the room, whether my mindful breathing could affect hers. I wondered whether she sensed my presence and whether our consciousness was linked in a way that was wordless. I thought of the tree and the yellow flowers and the blanket over the green grass, sweet and comforting in its sameness. It was all good.
Ebook: Hope for a Sea Change