Saturday, December 31, 2016

Leaves

When a leaf falls, it usually means nothing. Nothing significant, that is. It means that the stem couldn’t withstand the strength of the wind, or that the time has come for the tree to drop all its leaves in preparation for winter, or that the tree itself is dying and the dead leaf simply fell. All trees lose leaves—I’d imagine it’s like losing hair (though I’m not a tree, so I can’t say for sure). The leaf grows, it serves its purpose providing the tree with food, and when it dies or weakens (for whatever reason), it falls. Occasionally, it might be ripped off in a particularly brutal storm, or be picked or trimmed—quite by chance—by some passerby or a human deciding to take care of the tree by hacking off a few of its limbs.
I’ve watched hundreds, probably thousands of leaves fall. It’s a part of daily life to see a leaf on the ground, especially in autumn or winter. When the wind blows through and shakes the red-golden branches of a forest in fall, a fiery rain falls, creating a truly irreplaceable source of beauty and inspiration. Sometimes the wind picks up a few on the ground and whirls them around in a miniature tornado that would be otherwise invisible. It’s a beautiful dance, and a fact of life. Leaves fall.
Imagine, however, what this must be like from the perspective of a leaf. Once it sprouts, it spends its whole life gathering the energy from sunlight and photosynthesizing, creating food for the tree. In return, the rest of the tree feeds it the nutrients it needs to continue growing and gathering food, creating a symbiotic cycle of growth. It is constantly tossed about on the wind, clinging to its branch by a small green stem. Clouds and taller trees make it hard to reach the sun, and though it needs water to survive, the rain pelts it and knocks it about. It survives, but its job is hard. Caterpillars, aphids, and other insects may decide to knaw holes in it for food, and it may not be provided with the natural defenses to keep them away. At any time, for no reason, something may pluck it off its branch or snap its twig. If it is lucky, and survives all this intact, fall will come. Its chlorophyll will drain, leaving a beautiful color but no means to gather food, and it will weaken until it simply—falls.
Let me tell you another story. A small human baby is born. It—or, I suppose I should say, they—grow, and start gathering knowledge and building character. That knowledge is shared with everyone they know, and their character becomes apparent as it develops. Their mind and soul feed on the wealth of information available for them to learn, and they pass that food back to their family, friends, teachers, and classmates—everyone they know. In return, they are given more, as others reciprocate (whether they intend to or not—actions and reactions can be as telling as words). But other things happen. Problems arise—learning disabilities, social awkwardness, physical differences from others, distraction, difficulty with cooperation, unusual ways of thinking (none of these without their merits, of course)—that create obstacles in the exchange of creativity, knowledge, and understanding. The child has trouble tapping into that wealth of secrets they had discovered was waiting for them when they were born. As they grow, they struggle more and more to find it. They get older, get a job, maybe start their own life, and the exchange of soul food stays sparse, though they find ways to try and reach it still through friends and family.
But through it all, there are so many external factors acting on them that they find it hard to survive. Politics, the weather, accidents, their boss (with a life of their own, and a similar amount of troubles affecting their decisions)—all of these will batter and challenge the person, knowing at their sense of self, pulling them away from the people they love, seizing opportunities first, and making it very hard sometimes for the person to stay alive. If they manage it, though, they will be more or less happy at the end of their life, and their grasp will simply fail, and they slip away into the unknown. And all the people around them experience the same things, the same troubles, often the same ending. Like leaves on a tree and trees in a forest, they’re all in it together.
When a leaf falls, it usually means nothing. Nothing significant, that is. Perhaps a storm wiped it out, perhaps parasites drained it, perhaps someone meaning to keep the tree healthy clipped it away. It often wasn’t the leaf’s fault at all—sometimes things just happen, for no discernible reason, and sometimes they end in death. Sometimes the tree was crowded out by other plants. But let me tell you this: when a parasite finishes with one tree, it moves on to another. When a storm blows through, everyone is hit, no matter whose fault it was, or how strong the trees are. When a butterfly flaps its wings, a hurricane is born across the world. When big trees crowd out the little ones, they start fighting with each other for space, and wind up so entangled that they can’t get free or breathe. When autumn comes and the leaves fall, none are left green and thriving.
We have more influence over the random and unchangeable than we think. I’d suggest we start watching the patterns of the falling leaves.

"And in our silent yearning,
We scarcely hear the call
Our world slowly burning,
Like ashen leaves, we fall."
--me

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