(On November 2 the Church celebrates the Feast of All Souls, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. This is an essay that came to me last week, about beauty, life, impermanence, death, and eternal life.)
The air was crisp and cold as I arrived at work that day, a slight breeze that made my cheeks tingle. I shivered slightly and gazed upward as I exited my car, feeling awe as I glanced at the towering maple at the edge of the parking lot. Its shimmering gold and red leaves determinedly clinging to branches that extended like an extravagant and colorful awning over my vehicle.
At the end of the workday a still-blue sky greeeted me, but it was showing hints of dimming, and the breeze had stilled. Pausing at the door, I inhaled deeply and took in the feeling that comes from that certain scent of autumn. As I walked to my car, I noticed the carpet of fallen yellow leaves at my feet. Crunch, crunch, with each footfall, crunch crunch. CRUNCH. Must have been an acorn that time! It was as if nature had installed an early warning system, to alert my car to my presence.
Looking skyward, I found that the brilliantly colored canopy of maple that had captivated me earlier in the day was a bit more sparse. A bit?! All those leaves that seemed to tightly grip the branches a few hours earlier had finally accepted the decision to let go. The image of them floating down to the ground, like jewels cast from the hand of a generous monarch to the peasants at their feet. At that moment, all I could feel was sadness that the remarkable palette of color that has been spanning the sky for a few weeks was almost gone.
Almost to my car, with fallen leaves fanning out in every direction underfoot, I heard the words these words in my heart:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. John 12:24
That gorgeous towering maple has been growing for more years than I can imagine. Once part of a forest, it remains, sitting at the edge of a church parking lot. The tree, God’s patient and loyal sentinel, continues to keep watch with patience and dignity.
My sense of sadness began to lift as I stood next to my car. The fallen leaves, like the grain of wheat, remind me of the impermanence of one aspect of life, and the eternity of all life. A sense of remarkable beauty, consolation and peace encompassed my being. Life into death into life.
In November the Church remembers its saints and its beloved deceased in a special way. I am grateful for the reminder of how death is a part of life, seen on that day through the lens of fallen leaves, and wheat.