The Same Old, Same Old

by Joshua H. Barnes

Autumn Trees.jpg

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

So begins Robert Frost’s well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken,” which often comes to mind this time of year, when the green wood becomes the yellow wood. Fall is probably my favorite season, if only because it’s wed to so much of what seems worth remembering--like hay rides through Tanglewood’s Festival of Lights, or football games on Sunday afternoons, or apple cider hot enough to cut through the encroaching cold of winter, or how creation itself reminds us God’s really a painter, as greens give way to reds, oranges, and yellows.

When I was a boy, my parents spent all day raking leaves. Large oaks and maples stood round our home in Clemmons as if defending it somehow. In the fall, our front yard became a collage of deep reds and bright oranges and yellows, creating daylong raking work for Mom and Dad on the weekends. But work blended with joy when they raked together large piles of leaves in front of the pump house for my sister, Cassie, and I to jump into. Whole sections of family video feature scenes of us dropping through the air only to disappear in the work of our parents, who somehow paced their rakes to supply our inexhaustible joy. I asked Mom where this game came from, or whose idea it was--hers or Dad’s. She said it’s what they did when they were kids. Those fall afternoons became time machines, recreating for us a bit of our parents’ own childhood joy. What was old suddenly became new again.

I wonder whether this is a bit of Creation’s witness for us this fall. The writer of Ecclesiastes concludes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Part of me laments this--the part that rebels against boredom and the ‘same-old, same-old,’ that deeply craves novelty and change. This is the part of me that fears going to the movies only to see something predictable, and that avoids the best-sellers’ list because this month’s list looks so much like last month’s. This part of me has a crippling addiction to newness.

But another part of me finds strange comfort in the writer’s conclusion, and I suspect this is the part most needful of cultivation. Let’s call this my ‘autumn self,’ as its autumn that reminds me that even if there’s nothing new under the sun, that’s okay; what’s already there is more than enough. Consider your own life. How many fall seasons have you seen? How many times has the green wood become the yellow wood at your home? Whether thirty times or ninety, I imagine each time was an occasion for wonder. Hard as it is to believe, there are things that captivate me despite their sameness from one year to the next--that get me every time, so to speak.

This is one of the great ironies of life with God. That what I want from the new and the never-been-done-before is something I can really only find in the old, the ‘same-old, same-old.’ To be sure the mercies of God are new every morning (Lam. 3:23); yet, they are mere expressions of that which was, is, and will be--the love of the Lord. Maybe that’s why Israel’s most basic expression of covenant faithfulness was to remember the Lord. Maybe that’s why C.S. Lewis once wrote that Christians need less to be taught than reminded of what they believe. Maybe that’s why I love the fall: because in its red and yellow and orange enchantment, God reminds me that what I most need lies not ahead of me, but is with me already. That I have cause for wonder and awe and joy in his love, which is as same-old, same-old as the green that becomes the yellow from one year to the next.