Where has all the orange gone?

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The ubiquitous pumpkin-spice products and the Halloween pop-up stores seem to be only signs that autumn has arrived this year. The unusually long spell of summer weather has kept the trees green, and if one could finda blessing in this, the tomatoes still growing and ripening.

But I miss the changing colors. If I had wanted a Florida experience, I would have moved there! By this time there are usually bright shouts of yellows, reds and oranges in the neighborhoods and along Long Island’s parkways — but not yet this year. The atmosphere has to be right — with cool nights — for the fall magic to take place.

And that’s the way it is with our relationships too. The “atmosphere” has to be right for a healthy growth between people, whether it is family or co-workers. A toxic atmosphere that is clouded with grudges, addictions, meanness, or lack of loving attention can lead to all kinds of aberrations in relational growth.

There’s not much we can do about a warm autumn, but there is a lot we can do to deal with the dysfunctional aspects of our life. First we have to notice. The TV meteorologists point out what’s happening in the atmosphere and what’s likely to come in the days ahead. Who is your personal “meteorologist” when it comes to noticing the family or work conditions? Sometimes it is the children who signal that something is wrong. They exhibit troublesome behaviors which can be indications of their own anxiety in the midst of a troubled family. Or their behavior is attention seeking — a sign that they crave more loving, nurturing care from others.

Sometimes we get clues from people outside the family who notice we are dragging ourselves through the day. “Are you OK?” they ask. They can sense in us that something has changed, there is a cloudiness invading our life.

The clues are actually blessings in that they help us pause and become more self reflective. “Am I ignoring my own health?” “Am I separating myself from others?” “Am I drinking more, shopping more, going online more, eating more, etc. to cope with my anxieties, loneliness, stresses?” “Have I forgotten the joys of my first loves?”

Some people turn to medication during times like these. But that would be as if I took to painting the leaves with orange paint — autumn colors come, but artificially and at a price. So too a medicated “well-being” doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of the troubles — unless there is a true chemical imbalance.

Others turn to meditation and other forms of prayer to get through the difficult seasons of life. A belief in God who doesn’t abandon us but who is active in our recovery and growth can be a very healing and strengthening experience. Gathering with others in church or synagogue each week can also lift us beyond our current struggles and give us new insight that can help us go beyond the life-season we are stuck in and to discover a bright new time of life.

I don’t doubt that the fall colors are coming. I also don’t doubt that God’s help is coming and is in fact here.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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