Leaves change. Leaves Fall.
Updated: May 22, 2022
I moved to upstate New York three years ago when the treetops were afire with autumn colors. I spent hours looking out of the window watching amber and gold leaves fall from my sugar maple tree. Some of the leaves drifted weightlessly to the ground, others seemed to drop like rock. Sometimes, I would see a leaf dangle loosely before a breeze snatched it away. Something of the scene was beautifully sad.
Having recently moved from overseas, I missed my former community. It was as though every leaf reminded me of a friend dropping out of my world, like each falling was of a memory or moment I wouldn’t get back. My life had a pattern of relocating at a moment’s notice with one or two suitcases, and losing people still hit me like an axe to the bone. I guess that's why God felt a need to show me something in that autumn scene.
My science-savvy readers might already know that when temperatures cool and sunlight decreases, trees are forced to reserve their energy. They can no longer afford to produce chlorophyll, that green food-making substance in their leaves. With the loss of the sun’s warmth, chlorophyll breaks down, colors change, and in order for a tree to preserve its life during winter months, the unfruitful leaves are let go.
It makes me think on how we mourn relationships and to some degree hold a level of regret when they end. The severance is painful, and we often interpret the pain as senseless. However, if we silence our broken hearts, but for a moment, we can see how some folks weren’t really meant to be with us forever. They were ordained for a season, for a reason, and their exodus from our lives was as necessary as their entrance.
Don’t get me wrong. There are those who God calls to be branches in our existence. These people are permanent fixtures. They are members of our immediate households, extended family members, those BFFs who become like kin. But most people are foliage folks; lovely friends, coaches, teachers, and preachers who remain with us for seasons of learning. They feed into who we become, but their roles diminish. In fact, they can even become toxic when lingering beyond their appointed season. This isn’t because they are bad people. It might be that their season of influence is limited for our overall growth and maturity.
Frenemies and Judases seem like a waste of time, but they are important people who (indirectly) impart wisdom. They are instrumental in informing us of needed boundaries and shed light on our own fatal flaws. In fact, we might have been a frenemy on someone else’s tree, and they needed to drop us in order to thrive. No one has been so perfect as to have escaped being ghosted by someone who couldn’t stand our arrogance or ignorance, our rudeness or apathy, or even our shine.
All loss can (and should) be understood as purposeful for growth. At times, we even need to prune the blood-related branch for our well-being. And it's okay. We simply can’t hold on to everyone, because quite frankly, we are finite with limited time and energy. With that said, neither can we shy away from having people in our lives. If we shut others out, we become self-centered and less able to positively impact the world around us. The key is to love without fear and to surrender to the science of the seasons.
Those living in Northeast America may be familiar with the rampant death of the ash trees. In my three years here, I have watched sixteen of my beautiful trees die of beetle infestation. The trunks remain, but the trees are dead. The pest, called the Emerald Ash Borer, devours the trees from the inside out so that, whether it be fall, winter, spring, or summer, there are no leaves. The branches are naked. I see these ash trees as a picture of what happens when we allow the bitterness of losing to eat us from the inside out. We become lofty stalks who “don’t need nobody,” and therefore we exist without giving shade, fruit, or substance to our communities.
Should we shrink back in love because friends are seasonal? Because people come and go? Because we can’t recognize a foe or friend? God forbid. We simply love with the understanding that we can hold nothing nor anyone too tightly. Some friends and acquaintances are seasonal, and that’s okay. New friends will spring as we are kind to others. New family can emerge like blossoms. Great memories can be made with our deliberate intention and our keen attention to the good around us. When gratitude is what we feed ourselves, then we can experience happiness in every season of our lives.