Friday brought a monarch nectaring at the lantana on the porch ledge. It brought also the question that autumn always brings: will this be the last one? Not the last monarch in existence, to be (almost) sure, given the caterpillars that shredded the milkweed this summer, but the last monarch for this year? The last vivid flutterer before autumn arrives in earnest and the serious chill sets in?
The truth is that we cannot know when the last of something will occur. This afternoon will bring the memorial service for my mother, who died three weeks ago, so I’ve been meditating on “lasts.” She had failed seriously a few weeks before her death, bringing the flurry of activity and attention that such events generally do, but rallied, bringing a sigh of relief and the possibility that this “tough old bird” (as one of her doctors described her nearly twenty years ago—surely she wasn’t old then!) would cheat death one more time, as she’d been doing since 1983 when she overcame Stage 3 uterine cancer. However, after several days of good appetite, good humor, and visits with friends and relatives, she began shutting down for good. Thanks to a lot of good people, her last two weeks were among the best she’d had in years.
Would our behavior change if we knew that we might be experiencing something for the last time? If the noisy chickadee at the feeder were our last bird, would we take time to enjoy its hyperactivity instead of ignoring it and hoping to catch sight of an unusual fall warbler? If that rose on “Lady Elsie May” were our last rose, would we take the time to appreciate its subtle color variation and the gentle ruffling of its petals? If this year’s asters were to be our last flowers, would we be grateful for the cascades of purple on nearly every unmown roadside, or the weedy white wood’s-edge asters that are working with tiny pollinators and from a distance look like bridal-wreath spirea? Would the tidy among us cease to curse goldenrod and the giant purple stems of pokeweed?
I don’t know, but I do know that Buddha was right about at least one thing: most of us go through life not fully awake. Note to self: this is a beautiful world. Pay attention.