I read a lovely post this week about leaves collecting in the garden. But as the author enjoyed watching his son playing in the leaves piled up under the trees, he saw death, decay, and loss.
I don’t see death. I see life. I see possibilities. The old leaves were beautiful in their time – from the pale greens when the buds first appeared through to the grand finale of fiery reds, oranges and yellows – but there comes a point when the branches need to let go, to move on from this magnificent past in order to embrace the future. The trees (at least the deciduous ones) must shed their old leaves to allow new ones to grow in spring. It’s a risk, of course: they can’t be 100% sure that new leaves will come, or that they will be as beautiful as last year’s. The trees must trust in an uncertain process, putting their faith in nature’s, and their own, power. And you know what, maybe it won’t work – maybe they will be damaged by a particularly aggressive frost, maybe there won’t be enough rain – but then when autumn comes again the trees can once more shed their old leaves and get another chance the following year.
“You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
-Christopher Columbus (apparently)
I’ve been doing some more spring cleaning. (Are you really only supposed to do it once a year? Though, actually, it seems that I haven’t gone through my old stuff at my childhood home since 2004, if not 1994.) I’m sure that some of you heartless, I mean organised, people have no problems with clearing out as you go along, keeping only the bare necessities in your beautifully minimalist homes. Those of you who are more sentimental will appreciate how difficult it can be to get rid of things from your past. It may be that these things have no use or value at all, that they’ve been lying around for years without your having given them a single glance, and that they’re simply collecting dust and taking up valuable space. But still it can be hard to let go.
One of the reasons, I think, is that these on the surface useless things can represent a particular happy memory or feeling from your past. Some examples: games from your childhood, games that you haven’t played in 20 years and, in fact, are impossible to play since they’re missing crucial bits; but looking at the (huge) box kept lovingly in the cupboard for all those years brings back fond memories of playing with friends and family. Maybe on a deeper level the box also represents a youthful time of reckless abandon, a carefree era without all those adult concerns that weigh us down today.
Another, more complex, emotion comes from things that on the surface would seem to lack the capacity to cause any feeling at all except relief that this period of your life is over: piles and piles of essays, exams, and university applications. Did I put all that effort into researching and writing that thesis only to throw it in the bin? And what about the convoluted mathematics calculations – calculus, matrices, statistics – when today I struggle to do basic mental arithmetic? (I was always annoyed at my parents when they couldn’t help me with my schoolwork, because surely adults know everything that a child knows? Now I have more sympathy for their inability to help me with my chemistry homework…) Then there are the applications and acceptances to universities that I never went to, subjects I never studied. SAT scores. Awards. Praise from teachers. All evidence of great achievements at the time, and future possibilities that were never realised. I even have a bag full of gymnastics and skiing competition badges. Imagine! I could have been an Olympic athlete!
So I’m shedding some of my leaves. The maths exercises are going, teachers’ praise along with them. University acceptance letters too. Don’t worry, I’m keeping some essays as I’m sure my grandchildren will be eager to read about my early 21st century views on the effects of globalisation (ha!). And I’m keeping my awards, if only so that I can practice my Oscar/Tony Award acceptance speech (double ha!).
But I’m letting go of my happy childhood playing and my academic achievements from days gone by, trusting that new leaves will grow back in the spring. And though there’s a risk that the new leaves may not be as beautiful when they grow this coming year, I have faith that the lushest, most bountiful year is still to come.