In October 1965, Columbia Records released a hit song by the Byrds called “Turn, Turn, Turn.” While my friends and I loved its beautiful harmony, I never suspected that its words would accompany me through life, spanning decades of historical and personal events from the Vietnam War to the birth of my children and many years later, the death of my husband.
Initially written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, “Turn, Turn, Turn” is derived directly from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:1-8. Called Koheleth in Hebrew, its authorship is attributed to King Solomon, and it is included as one of several “Wisdom Books” in the Book of Writings (Ketuvim), along with Proverbs and Job. It stands as a remarkable compendium of insightful poetic prose and offers a philosophy that contemplates the cyclical nature of life and the precarious quality of human existence.
Originally written in Hebrew, Koheleth has been translated with varying degrees of sensitivity to its organic poetry and meaning. The King James version is most often cited as authoritative; its words forming the lyrics of the Byrd’s song. “To everything, (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn) and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
Biblical scholar and critic Robert Alter, whose translation and commentary of the Tanach (complete Hebrew Bible) is regarded as an unparalleled literary achievement, translates Ecclesiastes 8:1 a bit differently than the King James: “Everything has a season, and a time for every matter under the heavens.”
I like Alter’s rendition because its first four words provide a succinct message and positive spin on what has become clear to me about life: that change is inevitable and necessary, although not always easy, and if we are to evolve, we must adapt and accept this reality. Everything has a season.
When we are younger, we tend to engage in “seasons of acquisition” — attaining education and careers while building homes and families. We fill up our homes with furniture, art, toys for our kids. Friendships, too, are acquired for various reasons, from professional advancement to social intimacy.
I remember the early years of childrearing, when many of the friendships my husband and I developed were the result of the families we met through our children. Hours spent at T-ball, dance recitals, and rehearsals brought us together as we worried about getting the right uniforms, costumes, and carpools. Some of those people remain my closest friends to this day. Others have drifted away and are no longer part of my life. A quote by author Holley Gerth sums up this phenomenon beautifully: “There are friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.”
Growing older provides a perspective that comes from having lived in the trenches of life through its many seasons. For many baby boomers, retirement is just around the corner and with that, a new season of life begins — a season of possibility. For those fortunate enough to have the health and the means, there are limitless possibilities to spend time and resources differently — to travel, volunteer, spend more time with family and friends, exercise more regularly. Many have the privilege of watching their children marry and have children of their own. Ask any grandparent and you will hear that the season of grandparenting is one of the most cherished of all.
But age also brings an awareness of the precariousness of life as we enter a season of change that often heralds diminution and loss. For while the retirement years may offer us new possibilities, they can be accompanied by limitations as well. And while there is much written about what we can do to counter aging positively — from simplifying daily demands to engaging in physical exercise and increasing intellectual stimulation — there is no way to stop the ticking of the clock.
Everything has a season. This Jewish wisdom dating back thousands of years offers a mantra to live by at every age and stage of life and reminds us of the temporal nature of things and that change is inevitable.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an author, Jewish educator, public speaker and attorney who lives in Tucson. Her columns in the AJP have won awards from the American Jewish Press Association, the Arizona Newspapers Association and the Arizona Press Club for excellence in commentary. Visit her website at www.amyhirshberglederman.com.