Deep into November, a few last leaves cling to the trees. I always wonder about these leaves. What makes them hold on when millions of other leaves have fallen to their fate? Sometimes I think they are the stubborn ones, unwilling to accept the inevitable — falling to the ground to be raked up or left to decay. Or perhaps they are just stuck, unable to detach and move on.
I understand this feeling of stuckness. How many times have I been in an unhealthy or unworkable situation but unwilling or unable to let go, resisting change even as I pretend to embrace it? I contemplate this as autumn deepens towards winter. I walk pathways by a grey, churning sea, breathing in the sweet, earthy scent of leaves crushed underfoot, the crisp salt air and withered blackberries. The regulars who bloomed in the summer are huddled into their jackets. They no longer stop to chat. We still smile at each other but we are driven literally inward by the change to cold weather.
Change. I used to think my spirit loved it. Bring it on, I told the universe and so it did. Growing, loving, learning, travelling. But the past five years brought the kind of changes I could not embrace — the deaths of my mother and all of my dear grandparents, of friends, a dog and two cats. The closing of a business. The end of an era.
Through it all, I struggled to hold on, to stop time, but in my resistance I became like one of those last leaves of autumn, hanging on to a season that had passed.
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy,” wrote Anatole France, “for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
Unable to stop change or impose my will upon it, I became angry at it. I went to war against it. Was life always this out of control, I wondered, or did I just not see it before?
Finally, exhausted, I did something I never allowed myself to do.
I took a lesson I’d learned during years of skiing: on the slopes when I found myself going to0 fast and losing control, the best thing to do was stop skiing and repose rather than risk an accident.
At first slowing down felt wrong. I had to fight the urge to just do something. I felt the lives of others moving on while mine seemed to stagnate. But the truth was, only three months had passed. Surely, after all my years of furiously moving forward I could allow myself three months to regroup.
As the days passed I began to feel more alive. Instead of stagnating, I knew I was getting ready for something wonderful. I began to feel ready again for a change. “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg,” wrote C.S. Lewis. “We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
Strangely, during this time, my dreams became infused with images of the Hindu goddess Kali, the devourer. You’ve no doubt seen pictures of this fierce goddess with blue or black skin, many arms, ferocious eyes, and wearing a necklace of severed heads. Often, you see her dancing in burial or cremation grounds, laughing at our mortal attachment to ego and life.
Kali reminds us that in the midst of life there is death. In Kali we see nothing is permanent — time cannot be stopped. I don’t know how or why Kali came to me. I am not a Hindu and have scant knowledge of Indian gods. But there she was, giving me strength to dare, stripping away ego and everything not essential, infusing me with courage to move forward into the unknown, to detach like the last leaf from the tree, to let go.
I did not ask for any of the changes that tore through my life. In this age of The Secret it’s easy to think we manifest every change, but I don’t really believe that. I did not manifest the deaths of my family members. It was just their time, but because our lives were interwoven, when their threads were pulled from the fabric — my life also unraveled and had to be rewoven. And while my life won’t be the same, it has been rewoven —because that’s what life does.
I understand this today in a way I could not have understood it five years ago, before the ground shook beneath me, before the thread was pulled.
“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden,” wrote Goethe.
So it is with the leaves that still cling to the branches. I wander the garden and touch them. They have not stayed green and soft. They have hardened. Decay nips at their edges. They have outlasted their season —and I am glad I am no longer among them.
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