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Jermonique Toney Jr., 7, gets help from Joyce Fletcher as he puts on a piece of cloth that represents a caterpillar's cocoon at the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center Friday, July 13, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Foster Grandparent program, which Fletcher is a part of, pairs elderly volunteers with students in order to provide additional academic support. / Staff photo by Erin O. Smith

Six months...and three weeks.

We survived the coronavirus in March, springtime. Then, through July and August, the dog days of summer.

Now, we reach autumn.

And autumn is quite different from spring.

Back in April, there was a quiet reassurance that, despite the growing chaos, life would endure: Trees were unfolding, flowers blooming, birds everywhere.

As the virus emerged, springtime whispered: Life goes on. In abundance.

Then, summer and its vibrancy. As sunflowers bloomed, restaurants re-opened. There was talk of a vaccine. The NBA returned.

Yet now, it's autumn, which teaches a different curriculum than spring or summer.

Leaves turn and fall. We stack firewood. The green garden turns brown, droops and dies.

It is a time of letting go.

Of surrender.

It is one thing to live through a pandemic during spring and summer.

It is quite another to endure a pandemic during the fall and winter, when life recedes, hibernates and turns to ice.

I'm in my late 40s. If the average life span for whites in Hamilton County is 78, then technically, this puts me squarely in the third quarter of life. (For Black residents, it is five years fewer.) It is fall outside and, for many of us, fall on the inside, too.

The questions of my youth — what can I attain? How high can I climb? — have shifted. Acquisition turns to surrender.

How can I let go?

"One of life's most important abilities is to be able to put things down, to let them go, to let them drop like the leaves in autumn," says Buddhist monk Ajahn Sucitto. (He is old friends with Kittisaro, a Chattanooga native many of you know.)

Both the coronavirus and autumn ask us to let go of certain things.

And letting go is part of aging.

I know this sounds strange, especially as headlines shout other things: a virus-positive president. The debates. The coming election.

Yet if those of us in the third and fourth quarters of life are not able to age with grace, then we hamstring our own journey, bottleneck power and prevent the passing of wisdom down to younger generations.

"Inter-generational cooperation is essential to our survival," write Dr. David Wendt and Tom Bissonette.

This summer, Wendt and Bissonette — two well-known Chattanoogans — published a book together. Called "The Final Impasse: Why Older Men Cling to Relevance and Power," it's a substantial look at many things, chiefly this:

Why do some men age wisely and gracefully?

And others age bitterly and desperately?

"We talked with and about aging men to discover the reasons why they cannot step off the treadmill that hypnotizes them with power and a sense of relevance," they write.

Wendt, 65, built a career as a decorated, wise and trusted cardiologist both in Detroit and at Chattanooga's Heart Institute. Bissonette, 72, is a beloved educator and psychotherapist who taught at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for two decades.

Both men are retired, on the far side of the bridge that spans from highly successful careers to, well, something new.

"Many of us have spent our early and middle years in high gear, and it's hard to suddenly downshift as we end careers and realign our focus to connect with others," they write.

Their work is accessible, witty, tremendously relevant. Inter-generational conversations and book groups have begun forming around this book. (And elsewhere, too. On Friday, Sankofa Organization and the Kennedy Center held a similar conversation online. Featured was Chattanooga's Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson.)

I met Wendt years ago at a meditation retreat. He has become a wise and trusted friend, able to speak clarity into the chaos of today.

"We have been numbed by warp-speed lifestyles for too long and it took a pandemic to slow us down enough to look around," they write. "This is our 'holy sh- -' moment."

Look at Hamilton County. Does it value and honor its elderly?

Are 75-year-olds instructing 25-year-olds? And 45-year-olds?

And vice-versa: Are older folks learning from our youth?

If not, then our future will be even more difficult and divisive.

"It will be impossible to recover from the current civil unrest and our fragile economy without cooperation between generations," they write. "We must do this now, because the generation gap is fast becoming a generation wall, and it's getting higher and deeper every day."

Their book is available on Amazon and Lulu.com.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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David Cook
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