The Lesson of the Leaves

If I had a blog, today I would write about the dance of falling leaves.

The Dance of the Leaves

The Dance of the Leaves

As I walk in the forest on these brisk, November days, I am witness to the dance of oak, maple, walnut, and ash leaves as they tumble from sky to earth in a joyful ballet, a swan-song for golden days of autumn.  A few weeks ago, as I set out on my evening walk, a single oak leaf drifted across my path and landed silently on a dried weed stem.  The leaf was ragged and torn: unlovely in comparison with the still-perfect maple, dogwood, and walnut leaves that lay beneath it on the forest floor. How was it, I marveled, that this tattered leaf had the courage to dance from the heavens as if it were whole, unmarred, and beautiful? Wasn’t it aware how different it was from those that had fallen before?

A Single Leaf

A Single Leaf

As I pondered the courage of that solitary leaf, it occurred to me the leaves have learned a lesson that eludes most of humankind. For all our intelligence, we have yet to realize what the leaves have always known: Our value to the world lies not in our degree of perfection or similarity to others of our kind, but rather in the unique individual we are.

Humanity is obsessed with perfection.  Somewhere in our evolutionary journey, we have come to believe that there is an ideal we are all striving for—a sort of human template we must fit into to be considered whole, good, and acceptable. When we don’t fit that template, we chastise ourselves and struggle to be rid of the things that make us unique. We want to be “normal.” We want to fit in and see ourselves as part of a whole, but the irony is, that we, like the leaves, are each created with a beautiful individuality—a uniqueness that is our strength, our glory, our priceless gift to the world.

From the time they emerge from the bud in the growing light of spring, every leaf is a little different from its kindred. Some are short and some are long; some are perfectly symmetrical while others are misshapen; some are smooth and unblemished and some are brittle and full of holes and tears. Leaves, like humans, are all related, yet none of them are exactly the same. The difference is: The leaves don’t care. They don’t strive to be perfect or waste their lives trying to become something they are not. Instead, they take part in the dance of life—giving shade the forest floor, sheltering creatures great and small,  and cleansing the air that gives life to the earth. It is a lesson we would do well to learn.

What a difference it would make if, rather than striving to be “normal,” we spent our lives celebrating our wonderful diversity. Some of us are born to be solitary—a single leaf floating to the earth like a dancer alone on the stage, while others will fall to earth in a gleeful jumble— swift and free, like partners in a country dance. Some leaves will let go of their mother-tree early in the autumn, while others will hold on to the last moment, letting go on that perfect winter morning when its edges are silver with frost. There is no “right” or “wrong” in such decisions, only what comes naturally. That is the lesson of the leaves: be the individuals we were born to be, live every moment with joy and never question who we are. We were created in the image of something greater and more beautiful that the human mind can comprehend and we must embrace our authentic selves, revel in our eccentricities, and celebrate the glorious beings we are.

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