Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letting Go: Another Lesson from the Rooted Ones? Maybe not...

This autumn,I have been fascinated by falling leaves because I know that my life is at a point where I need to shed some things I have been holding close. Chronic illness will do that to a person.I have spent my life experimenting with who I want to become. Now I am in a season of letting go of some of that.

I thought that, once again, I could  learn from the trees, but I've been struggling.

Leaves (and fruits and wilted blossoms) don't actually fall off trees; they are pushed.

Hormones, triggered by internal or external changes in the environment, cause the plant to create what are called "abscission cells." A layer of waxy material forms nearest to the stem to protect it. On the leaf side, a bumpy line of cells forms to push the leaf, bit by bit, away from the rest of the plant.

{Pretty, hunh? It makes me want to paint. If I do, I'll post it.}

Flashback: I am 16 years old, sitting on a plane next to my mother, who is reading a book by Lafcadio Hearn. We are returning to the States after 10 months living in Jamaica. It has been an awful/wonderful/transformative year for me. I read this:

"When you pick a branch, the tree springs back into place. The same is not true of the heart's affections."

(I have been unable to Google the quote… Is the memory fiction?)

Part of me wants to emulate trees and falling leaves:  How do I protect my core while I gradually push away what needs to drop?

Part of me insists on my humanity: change may hurt. To be fully human, I want to feel the hurt and loss and grief and incorporate it into my forward movement.

Let me get less esoteric. For many years, I have been driving half an hour to attend a church. Over the last year, my arms have been getting weaker and driving has been getting more dangerous. Getting rides is possible, but inconvenient and time-and-energy-consuming. During the last month, I've been making connections at a church 5 minutes drive from where I live. (On a nice summer day, I might even get there in my wheelchair.) It makes sense to change churches.

When I imagine staying at the "old" church, I feel tired and heavy. When I imagine switching to the "new" church, I feel relieved and free, but my heart hurts.

When we moved from California to Minnesota, my then seven-year-old daughter, Alexis, said, "we will never have all of the people we love in the same place at the same time."

She was right, of course. Moving on is a condition of creatures, not of trees. We leave things behind. If we are conscious, it hurts.

Alexis was right: we never have all of the people we love in the same place at the same time. But we learn, as we age, to carry the love with us and within us.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lessons from a Sumac Leaf

"I don't like change," said the man in the meeting. "Nobody does." Around the room, people nodded.

I beg to differ. I do like change. Maybe this is a defense against living in an unpredictable body. Maybe it's a generational thing. Who knows? Luckily, it turns out, in these postmodern times, to be a strength.

Delight of the Day

Lately, I have given myself an assignment: to identify my "delight of the day." That is, some small thing that makes me smile. Often, it is something I notice while I'm taking the dog for a walk. One morning I saw dew clinging to spiderwebs. Another day, it was the contrast of black-purple wild grapes against yellow leaves. Today, it was the green and red veins in a sumac leaf.

After a month or so of choosing delights, I decided to combine it with a creative experiment: to give a creative response. I have been singing back to frogs and waving my arms at birds. Today my response to the sumac leaf was this:

Changing Colors

In addition to playing with the patterns on the leaf, I reminded myself how leaves change color in the fall. Colder weather and shorter days lead the tree to shut down production of chlorophyll. For some trees, this reveals the color already in the leaf. The red and purple leaves (like those of the sumac) are created through a chemical reaction turning the stored chlorophyll into anthocyanin. The shade is affected by the pH level of the soil.

So we have this being subject to changes beyond its control. In response, it stops what it has been doing, takes the resources available and creates something new.  The result is a blend of old and new, influenced by the environment in which the being grows.

Lessons for Humans

Although I like the possibilities change invites, I don't always enter into change gracefully. The sumac can teach me:
  • Differences in my environment are invitations to change.
  • Recognizing those differences puts me in a place of choice.
  • Now might be a good time to stop what I have been doing and identify my resources.
  • Can I use the same resources and do something different with them?
  • The new may be very different from the old. (The greens and reds of the sumac leaf are opposites on the color wheel.) Still, they can coexist.
  • The processes and products I create may be different from the ones others' create. That's okay.
  • The processes and products I create may be different from one another and from those I've created in the past. That's okay too.
Human brains sometimes find change disconcerting and scary. When we remember that it--and we--are part of the Divine Pattern, we can take deep breaths, slow down and learn from the rooted ones.