When my brother and I were kids and the trees in southeastern Ohio were garbed in their finest autumnal attire, my parents sometimes suggested that we take a drive through the country.
Why? my brother and I would ask.
To look at the leaves, our parents would say. The fall trees are beautiful, it will be fun, I know you will love it, my mother would try to convince us.
It was a tough sell. My brother and I didn’t buy into the joy of “just driving” with a goal of going nowhere. Driving was a means to an end for us kids, and our parents’ “relaxation” sounded more like our “boredom-with-no-way-to-escape.” In our minds, fall leaves were good for one thing and one thing only: creating big, soft, colorful, crunchy piles to jump in.
And we did create piles, huge piles made from maple leaves the size of our hands that floated down from the majestic old tree in our own front yard, and even bigger piles of the golden ones that our grandpa collected in the rusty wagon that he pulled behind his tractor and then dumped in one towering heap. We were just kids, and leaves didn’t look like work yet. It seemed like gathering them and raking them into a jump pile even made our old grandpa smile.
As we grew older and wiser and the realities of life chipped away at our childish perceptions of the world, we realized the truth about autumn. Sure, they are gorgeous, those leaves soaked in vibrant reds and fiery oranges and yellows as pure as the sun, but their beauty foretells their impending demise. Fall gradually seemed less like fun and more like loss, the depressing turn in the circle of life that no one likes to discuss. So what is a leaf pile, really, but a whole bunch of death raked into one spot? And we lose more than just leaves in the autumn. We lose daylight. We lose heat. We lose the flashy greens and pinks of the warmer seasons in exchange for winter whites and dreary browns and gloomy grays. Maybe the pumpkins and the festivals and the cider are a way of distracting our attention from the truth.
When youthfulness has passed, autumn kills the joys of summer and marches us toward the cold brutality of winter. Fall is the darker side of nature. Fall feels a bit like grief.
This year, fall is like a stranger passing through, one with little time for conversation and no interest in making himself at home. An icy chill is already biting at our fingers and toes, and wintery winds have battered the trees, stripping the branches bare while foliage tumbles to the ground like fallen soldiers. Winter is winning and fall didn’t even put up a fight.
But somehow my perception of fall is different yet again. Maybe our views of nature’s seasons, just like our opinions on so many things in life, evolve with age and our own changing seasons. No, autumn isn’t just about leaf piles anymore, but maybe it’s not just the harbinger of the long, hard winter ahead either.
Maybe fall is actually a season of promise, a season less about loss and more about preparing our hearts to appreciate the renewal of spring. Maybe fall is nature’s way of cleaning house, a season specifically and wonderfully designed to clear the dead leaves that steal what nourishes our souls to make space for what is new.
It hurts, watching the leaves fall from our trees, knowing that the season to come will likely be cold and dark and brutal. But the leaves fall so that the tree can live, and it becomes stronger by accepting rather than fighting the change. The tree must actually let go in order to survive, even if the exposure and vulnerability are uncomfortable. And while those sharp, angular branches seem barren to our eyes, the buds that will burst open and bring joy in the spring have already been forming inside of them. The autumn leaves don’t just forewarn us of winter’s icy chill. They herald the hope and the promise and the newness of spring. While we see the suffering, the merciless beating that the tree will endure through the winter, we are completely unaware of the incredible changes that are happening just below the surface, preparing the tree for an exciting new period of growth.
As you rake the final leaves of autumn, remember that those fallen soldiers, stained in crimson and littering the ground, aren’t lost in vain. They have bravely paved the way for the new leaves behind them, buds that are already formed and patiently waiting, preparing for their moment of grandeur in the spring.
And most of all remember that you are not the leaf tumbling uncontrollably through life, swept away by the winds, defeated and bracing for the next breeze to shake you. You are the tree, with thick, deep roots that twist and turn beneath the soil under your feet, a tree lovingly designed to survive life’s winters by shedding the hurts that no longer serve you to prepare for what is next and what is new and what is good. The autumn days in your life are not your ending. They are your beginning. There are new buds growing inside you, and you cannot predict the beauty that lies just beyond what you can presently see.
Hang onto hope.
But don’t hang onto the leaves.
***** Hey, friends! It’s been a while. I know. I’m sorry. I’ve missed you. I’ve been doing a little more writing on Facebook lately, but I will share more about that in a later post. If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies there, consider liking and following the page so you don’t miss a thing. Happy fall to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!