The first leaf fell without notice. Loosened its grip on the branch and floated on unseen currents to the ground. The second leaf quickly followed, also without notice. Over a period of days — a week or two — others, many others, joined them and it was only after the back yard was littered with leaves that I noticed.
Slow accretion is the way of nature. Nothing happens overnight; it just feels that way to people not paying attention.
Falling leaves, fallen leaves are beautiful. Pomegranate red, pumpkin orange, yellow that is not the color of anything else, mottled like tortoise shell. The rustle, the rattle they make as I walk through them, intentionally shuffling, is like the crackle of a fire, the crunching of stiff paper being squeezed into a ball. When I catch sight of one mid-fall, twisting languidly toward the ground, I feel as though I’ve been touched by magic, visited by a fairy.
And, yet, I cannot fight back the sadness. The beauty is tinged with loss. The trees that have housed birds, shaded me, fed deer will soon be naked, asymmetrical armature silhouetted against a winter sky.
Winter — especially this winter — this season into which we march like weary soldiers after a spring, a summer, a fall that force fed us isolation and fear, anger and contention — the four horsemen of some kind of apocalypse – reminds us of how very fragile we are. Fragile like fallen leaves.
I hear a phrase in my head, “casting a pall.” That is what falling leaves, in all their beauty, do. They cast a pall, they drop a dark mood over something otherwise merry.
Over the past couple of weeks two men that I have known and loved for years have died. One, the big brother of a childhood friend who I got to know in adulthood, and one, a professional contact whose humor and tenderness turned him into a dear compatriot. Hub and Saint Buddy were good men, husbands who loved their wives, fathers who loved their children, citizens who contributed to their community. Their loss, each and both, have cast a pall over us, over me.
I cannot know the weight of the loss on their wives, their children, but I do understand it. I understand that it is suffocating, that it is deafening, that it is too heavy to carry alone.
Which, I suddenly realize, is why we need pallbearers. Not just solemn men who carry their own grief along with the casket, but the friends, the neighbors, the acquaintances who show up with food, who show up with flowers, who simply show up. With each act of acknowledgment of the sorrow, they become pallbearers, helping to carry the pall of the loss.
The past nine months have left us all spent. Anyone who is not weary, who is not hungry for hugs and the fellowship of easy laughter, is suspect. That person, I would imagine, is not worthy of being a pallbearer, but the rest of us, those of us who have known loss and sorrow, are more than worthy. We are called.
Called to walk alongside each other, to form a company of fragile souls who, recognizing their fragility, march on. Called to pay attention to the falling leaves and the broken hearts and called to search for and share the beauty in both.