The Wisdom in Falling Leaves

November 21, 2014

As a little girl, fall was always my favorite season. I loved that the trees looked like enormous red and yellow lollipops and that the air tasted of cinnamon. When the leaves turned brittle and fell to the ground, I walked back and forth over mounds of them, just to hear their comforting rustle beneath my feet.

I still like fall best, though what I now treasure most about it is its unwillingness to waste time. Fall knows exactly what it must do and gets on with it. It’s a period of transition. It’s about endings. But it is mostly about those leaves and our fragility. I can’t help but wonder whether the trees process the loss as they strip their color, whether they mourn what once was, whether they ache with the melancholy wrought by the shorter days.

For six years of falls, in the weeks before frost blanketed the grass, I walked with my youngest son to school. Each morning, we stopped in a nearby field to pick through the patches of lingering summer clover. We looked every day until we found a rare four-leaf specimen, the sign of a lucky year ahead. Later, we pressed our find into an album, labeling the date, and discussed how, when it comes to grades, you have to work hard for your luck.

The ritual helped him adjust to the new school year, but I knew that the autumn would come when he’d be too old or too embarrassed to sit on the grass with his mother. I clung like a barnacle to his willingness for as long as it remained within reach.

When he moved on to middle school last year, I started driving him in the mornings and we had to search for our clover on a Sunday instead. By this fall, however, he was already focused on other activities. He’d outgrown clover-picking altogether, quietly moving on to adolescence during this season of transitions. Our ritual ended without a sound, just as the leaves began to drop silently from the trees.

Still, we talk all the time, and for that I consider myself blessed. Lately, we’ve spoken about how there are things that may never make sense in our curious world, how there is love and hidden wisdom behind G-d’s plan, and how none of these facts excuse a seventh grader from doing his homework.

It takes nothing more than reading the news each day to fully grasp how little we understand of the Big Picture. On the morning of the Har Nof massacre, I shared the painful story with my son when he stumbled down to breakfast. His reaction was blunt and full of sadness. “How the heck do you expect me to go to school and pretend that everything is normal when it clearly isn’t?”

“Because that’s what we have to do,” I told him.

I never try to hide my tears from my boys, though I do have to fight the inclination to curl up into a ball. I want more than anything to help them see the good in a world whose light seems to dim with the passing days. After all, life goes on, even as we mourn, even as we try to comfort those facing irrevocable losses, even as we pray for G-d’s justice.

There is a profound intelligence to the unfolding of the seasons. Spring emerges hopefully from the chill of winter, hesitating from bud to blossom. It melds with summer before drying up on its way into fall, where we are reminded of the fact that all life is fragile. But this autumn, more than ever, we need not look at the falling leaves to know.