Why Leaves Change Colors: A Story of Hope

“… You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen…”

― Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast

Fall is akin to the word bittersweet for me- beautiful yes, but also full of remembrance for what has become past. Each fall I am reminded of every fall before, and the last couple have been quite difficult. Fall signals the most tumultuous time in my marriage. It signals the beginnings of a slide into a wintery depression. Fall is the time when my grandmother Rose died last year.

Mel shared with me an insight about fall, however, that has somewhat affected the way I perceive the season. Her insight was confirmed with a search that revealed this article about the changing colors of leaves in the fall:

The story begins in summer, when leaves are green thanks to a pigment known as chlorophyll. It captures just the right spectrum of color from the sun’s light, to power the process known as photosynthesis. “As the chlorophyll is grabbing that sunlight, it’s pulling water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air and energy from the sunlight and shoving it together to make sugar,” Sutherland says. That helps the tree blossom and grow. As the days grow shorter in autumn, leaves stop making chlorophyll, revealing a dazzling secret.

The secret is that the colors of fall are the leaves true colors.

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I can’t help but see this as a metaphor. I have compared fall to the word bittersweet. This used to be my favorite word before I had a number of personal experiences where the bitter far outweighed the sweet of loss.

I no longer romanticize what loss or sadness means, but I have found greater depth in my own losses and life story. Like the changing leaves of fall, hardship revealed to me my own truest nature. It revealed to me my own resilience, love, courage and connection with my higher self. The process was not romantic or desired, but it was meaningful, and in its own way beautiful.

In Linda Graham’s book Bouncing Back, she states:

“The more difficulties you have… the greater opportunity there is to let them transform you.  The difficult things provoke your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the surface. And that becomes the moment of truth. You have the choice to launch into… patterns you already have, or to stay with the rawness and discomfort of the situation and let it transform you, on the spot” (321).

I cannot say that hardship has always “transformed me on the spot,” but I have certainly been transformed in ways that are deep and meaningful.

A year ago, this season was the hardest of my life. And after the fall, there were many months of winter in which I struggled, and ultimately recovered, through much work: counseling, medication, dialogue with friends and family, spiritual/mindfulness practice and reflection.

These photos from a fall morning this season cannot capture the crisp air, the solitude, the peace that is cultivated in the moment, but they do symbolize how much my life has changed.

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My life has become a commitment to open-heartedness and transformation, a commitment to sharing the darkness I have experienced and the beauty I have found.

I post often about the many beautiful moments in my life, which are all so very heart-felt and true. The abiding truth in my story, however, also lies in the path I took to get to where I am, in the ways I still struggle, in the commitments that I have made to myself and others not in spite of, but because of, the difficulties along the path.

I feel it is important to share this story, because I know there are many for whom the bitter has outweighed the sweet. For what it is worth, this is a story of hope.

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What does fall mean to you?  In what ways have difficulties allowed you to access your own truest self?  

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section or in an email via the Contact tab.

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