The Parable of the Leaf

As we walked in the woods one day, Nona reached out a hand without looking, and took a low-hanging leaf from a maple tree. She examined it, seemingly lost in thought, and then slowed to a halt, extending the leaf in my direction. I stopped, too, and took it. It was a sullen red, but far from the reddest on its parent tree; and it was ragged around the edges, with grey-brown dead spots carelessly arranged across its width. It seemed wholly unremarkable.

I looked up to see Nona regarding me with the same thoughtful expression she had worn while examining the leaf. That unsettled me, and I raised the leaf in her direction. “I think I’m missing the lesson here, if there is one.”

She was silent for another moment, then smiled; in the fall afternoon, her wrinkles became a joyous map of light and shadow.

“Is that leaf whole?” she asked.

“Well, it’s a little torn here and there. It’s hard to say. It might be missing a small piece or two.”

The smile had vanished again, and her eyes were oddly intent as they met mine. “But you see it as a distinct entity. As a leaf, rather than part of a leaf. A whole in itself.”

I allowed that that was so.

“And is it the same leaf that grew on that tree from a bud some months ago?”

“It’s been through some pretty big changes since then. Whole seasons. Storms, high winds, hundred and ten degree weather. But I guess it is the same leaf. The same… what did you say?… entity, the same whole in itself.”

She smiled again. “And if you imagine the bud it grew from, was it beautiful then?”

I smiled too, remembering those first green days of spring. “Absolutely.”

“And if you look at it again, is it still beautiful now?”

I looked at the leaf again. Thinking about everything it had been through, the grey-brown spots looked like marks of defiance, the tears around its edges like scars of unflinching endurance. The red that faded to yellow and even almost green at the very ragged edges suddenly seemed to glow in a way it hadn’t just moments earlier.

“It is,” I said, looking away and fighting a sudden urge to burst into tears.

Nona took the leaf from me, and set it gently on the stone wall that ran beside the path. “And so it is with every leaf. Even those that fall from the tree too soon. Remember that.”

And then we continued our walk.