One year ago, in October 2016, my wife Channa and I turned off a busy thoroughfare in Roanoke, VA, and, with a real estate broker, drove up a curvy road onto the lower slope of Sugarloaf Mountain. It was a hot day.
It was always a hot day, we had discovered, during our first summer in Roanoke.
Summer? Blazing sun? In October?
This was terrible!
We were house shopping. We had identified three possibilities out of the many houses we had visited during the past weeks. Each of the three had demerits, but we were considering making an offer on one of them anyhow.
Earlier that day our broker had said, “I’ve got one other listing we should look at, okay?”
We turned off the thoroughfare. Driving up, I saw something ahead in the road. It was something I hadn’t seen much in Roanoke.
The road curved, and the entire area where the road curved was…in the shade!
Next to the shaded curve was a For-Sale sign. Could this be the house our broker had in mind? It was!
I walked into the house by about four strides, saw my first view of the split interior, and knew this was the house I wanted. Channa liked it, too, especially because I was so enthusiastic.
But it wasn’t just the interior design I liked.
I loved the huge oak on the house’s eastern side. I loved the two big maples on the house’s northern side. I loved the vast oak in the neighbor’s back yard to the south because that oak shaded half of what was to become our home. On our home’s western side, surrounding our back yard and patio, a half dozen other trees block the fire of the sun.
Our house swims in shade.
I loved the shade!
We bought the house, and here’s what the woman next door said when I went to introduce myself. “You poor guy, you have no idea what trouble you’re in.”
Shade is a blessing in Roanoke.
We are grateful for our trees, which keep our house cooler and reduce our cooling cost all summer long. The trees do that because they are covered with leaves. Come fall—which begins in November—the leaves turn yellow, and…they fall.
Billions of them.
Billions upon billions upon billions of them.
They inundate our yard, roof, gutters, porch, driveway, patio, parking area in back.
Our neighbor was right. The raking job is an enormous task. It is an enormous, on-going task, and it lasts through most of two months.
Fortunately, our son Sam loves raking and bagging. Our grandson Miles loves helping his grandfather and his uncle with the raking and the bagging. Our good-spirited granddaughter Ivria is willing to rake and bag, but what she loves most is throwing big handsful of leaves at her brother and uncle and grandfather when the leaves have been raked into their piles.
In Maine, where we had sixteen acres of forest and meadow, and the house was surrounded by deciduous trees as well as by pines, we had plenty of leaves, too, but, in Maine, I waited until the end of leaf-fall and raked everything onto a big tarp and hand-dragged several loads into the woods and dumped them.
That was rural life. In Roanoke, we are suburban, and we continually bag leaves up, day after day, and we stack the bags on the edge of the road, and the county hauls them away.
There is a God point to this blather about leaves. The God point is metaphorically about the last leaf to fall.
Here in Roanoke we get wind storms. We got a big one four days ago. It was a strong, cool wind (thank the Lord!) roistering through the trees from the northwest, sending that day’s billion leaves before it—like snow. We got a blizzard of leaves.
Have you noticed something about leaves?
They like moving in a gang. They all make up their minds at the same time, and then they do what the others do. When the wind comes along, they all let go and tumble, as though they were the crazy idea of some slap-dash painter, flinging yellow flakes of tinsel down the air.
But—no—not all of them.
Our blizzard died away. I went outside. The day was cooler than before, and the air was still now, with the sun bright and coming slantways from low down in the west. Everywhere that I could see, I saw inches—even a foot—of depth of leaves.
I had intended to start by sweeping the porch, but I stopped.
High in one tree, way up, there was one single yellow leaf all by itself out on the end of a twig. It hung there, very still. It caught my eye because it was brightly lit against the blue of the sky by a shaft of the sun.
I watched it for a time, standing as I was in the quiet yellow of the aftermath of the blizzard. That leaf seemed almost to be making up its own mind. It had hung on tight while the wind had buffeted it, and while all its friends had let go and had flown. It had hung on, waiting, maybe thinking it through.
What was it which that leaf was thinking through?
Perhaps its own allegiance to the Lord.
Everyone else had known what was right—what was manifest—to do. Everyone else had said, “We are a sweeping tide of Christian consciousness joyfully covering the landscape of the Lord.” And they had.
Why, I thought to myself, that last leaf is like I was ten years ago.
Of course, that leaf has no soul—it’s a leaf—I thought.
But, I thought, I am a writer and a chaser after metaphor. I have a soul. I have a soul, and I had hung on tight to my anchoring point during the nine months of my soul’s stormy struggle beyond Judaism toward its rebirth in Christ.
I had hung on, battling that stormy struggle through.
Yes or no? To deny or to accept? To let go and to go? Or not to let go and to go?
And—just as I reached this point in the framing of my thought—up there above me, after the end of the wind storm, that last yellow leaf let go.
As I had, too.
I watched that last yellow leaf flutter peacefully all the way down until it nestled comfortably with its yellow fellows. All of us at one with the Lord.