There is a chill in the air these days when I leave my home. My feet crunch out a steady rhythm in a sea of fallen leaves as I hug my son a little tighter to my chest. My eyes take in the autumnal landscape; muted hues of deep reds, pale yellows, lingering greens and faded browns hanging in the treetops. Each time I step outside, unfailingly, a song by Regina Spektor rises to my lips. “Leaves become most beautiful when they’re about to die. When they’re about to fall from trees. When they’re about to dry up.”
Most of the time, I am not entirely sure what Regina is talking about in her songs. This song is no exception. However, while I may not understand the full meaning behind her lyrics, the truth that leaves do in fact become more beautiful when they are about to die has always stuck in my mind. How strange it is that leaves do not merely retain their green hues, or perhaps a faded lack-luster green hue, but instead they take on a completely new and lovely look.
When my husband brings home a bouquet of flowers for me, they are lively and bright. Yet, as the days pass– as they die, they begin to fade. The petals wilt, the stems fall limp, and the colors lose their brightness. In my mind, this is expected. When plants are dying, they wilt and fade. I know there a difference between fresh, cut flowers (that are in a way already ‘dead’) and leaves following their natural, seasonal course. However, there is still something poignant and poetic in Regina’s lyrics.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a pew at church on a Monday evening. A man I didn’t know was speaking and, as I listened, something he said sparked a realization of a deeper truth tucked into the changing leaves. Usually, I’m not at church on Monday evenings, but this night we had gathered together in somber community to remember the life of a man I had never met.
Funerals are a time when the truth of your inevitable death stares you right in the face. Our time seems ever more precious, our relationships more treasured, and our demands a little less necessary upon honoring the life of another person. When I leave a funeral, I am always prompted to consider how I’m living my life. Who would be at my funeral? What would be said about me? Am I moving towards accomplishing the things God has called me to do before I die?
I have yet to go to a funeral where the people there criticize the person whose time on this Earth has ended. If any perceived flaws are brought up, they are always talked about in a loving and nostalgic way. The speaker that night shared how he and his family had known that their father was growing closer to death. Everyone always says the good stuff about a person when they die, he said, but that’s because when someone is soon going to be leaving you, you look past the bad stuff.
He shared that it was a blessing to know that their time with Papa was limited, because they were able to delight in all the good things about him. As their father was dying, he became more beautiful in their eyes. It wasn’t his physical appearance that became more beautiful though, but rather they suddenly saw him differently. A person is more than their body, and as this man’s body failed him, his soul shined through beautiful, bright, and as wondrous as the fall leaves.
As the son finished his eulogy he left us with a challenge. Each of us is more precious than we know. Do not wait for those whom you love, the people closest to you, to die before you see their beauty! Now is the time. Look past their flaws and mistakes, and then find the good.
Immediately I thought of how I had recently criticized my husband for this or that. How easy it is for us to be unkind, unloving, and ungracious to the ones who are closest to us! How easy it is for me to notice the one or two things my husband does not get right, instead of all the good things he is doing. My next thought was of my child. Still just a babe, although growing bigger every day, how will I engage with him in the future? Will I encourage him, or will I point out each little thing he does wrong?
Before me is a long road of grace, patience and humility to travel. When I survey it in my mind, it looks difficult. Identifying the fault seems to come naturally to me. I can think of a countless number of times when I have been with my family or friends and I had not grace nor patience nor kindness to give to them but rather dished out a heap of selfishness, demands and disapproval masked in criticism, logic, and harsh words. How will I ever train my mind to see past the immediate mistake and speak the good that is hiding behind it?
My biggest inspiration comes from real interactions I have had with people, stories I have read, and the Word of God. These experiences and tales buoy the hope with-in me, that, while the road to change may be arduous, it may also be joyful. I delight in thinking of myself acting in humility and treating my family with grace. I long to encourage the burgeoning young boy I will have the chance to mother as he grows older. Then also, as a wife, I want to support my husband and not tear him down.
The greatest commandment, Jesus tells us, is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and to love one another as you love yourself. I do not love the few occasions when my husband points out the one thing I have done wrong and fails to see all the things I have done right. When I survey my day, more often than not, I do not criticize myself for everything that I have done wrong. If I usually treat myself with grace and encouragement, and want others to treat me with compassion and understanding, why would I not treat everyone I meet in the same way?
I know that it is God who changes hearts and minds, and I humbly offer this prayer to Our Wonderful Creator as I travel the path he has laid before me to grow evermore like Him in his unending grace, forgiveness, loving-kindness, and mercy:
O Father in Heaven, the time You have given us on Earth is but a fleeting instant. Let me not rest in the chance of tomorrow, but rather appreciate the people around me today. Please cleanse my eyes to see past the few errors, and even the big mistakes, people make. May You change my mind and teach me to pause– to take a moment to glimpse the beautiful soul reflecting the image of its creator in everybody that I meet. Each person You have made is precious and worthy. They have the beauty of a New England fall. May You guide me to see them as such, to see past the dirt and grime that anyone can find and speak the truth of the gold underneath.
In the name of Jesus, this I pray, Amen.