I guess it’s the fall. I guess it’s the weather today. The harsh lead-and-pewter clouds, the promise of cold rain, the last of the leaves fading and ragged on the skeletal trees, their recent iridescent glory shrunk to this little measure of mottled brown. The ground poulticed thick with death and the wet smell of rot fogging the air.
It’s a cycle. That’s what we say. That death has no dominion, that’s what we say. Summer’s idyllic green gives way to fall’s brief flame, which flame is easy snuffed in the ice of winter’s tomb, but that tomb breached each spring by life’s insistence.
Except I’m not life. I’m not the tree. I’m just a leaf. One fragile biological pennant waving in time’s capricious breeze, a leaf that has already had its spring, its summer and that is watching its own color turn, not to Autumn’s gold or scarlet, but rather to the paling flesh and graying hair in which we human leaves mark our own denouement.
It is a cycle, my own children making the turn from their spring to their summer, budding with their own fruits as I watch in wonder to see how those will be revealed. Nieces and nephews having their own children, insistent life broaching wombs and leafing in small green on humanity’s tree even as my own leaf fades.
But I am just a leaf. In the elegiac narcissism of age, I know that the world of my creation – the soil of my experiences, the flower of my memories, the ecology of my friendships, the entire abundant forest of my imaginings and actions – that it falls to the ground complete that day my stem loses its grasp, and that it is never reborn. There will be new leaves, but not this one. Never again this one.
The cycle of life is a principal, a generality. But each death marks the complete destruction of the unique, of a world entire, one known only in part beyond the barriers of its own biology. And each browned and torn leaf that I watch ripped from its final, tenuous hold reminds me that my world is mine alone, shared some little as I have managed but entire only in my sight and gone entire at my death.
Science tells us why the leaves shine so bright in the fall, but that cold knowledge points only to the grave, and so we wrap ourselves in the warm lies of our faiths to find hope for which we can have no evidence, to invent some magic cycle in which we ourselves are reborn. Instead, I will believe only this – that the leaves shine in their autumn out of rage and avarice, remembering those days of summer they wasted and knowing how short the days ahead, and so that at last they strain for their fullest glory, knowing their world will be forgotten, but hoping their passing will be remembered.
And so shall I.