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.

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