I have always loved autumn. Here in the temperate Midwest, the deciduous trees put on a cloak of many colors that rivals Joseph’s. The maples flame in brilliant reds, the sycamores and poplars turn to burnished gold, and the oaks offer a stunning rainbow of hues.
Up until recently, it has mainly been the crisp, cooler weather and the fall colors that I have savored about autumn. But now, I have also begun to pay attention to what happens after the spectacular show of technicolor leaves: the trees let them fall to the ground, to become nourishment for the soil.
In this, the trees offer a valuable lesson about letting go as an essential part of a healthy life. Our kids grow up, and because we love them, we let them go. We are wronged by someone, but eventually, if we don’t want our grievance to consume us, we have to let it go. A job or a home or a relationship is right for a season, and then we have to let it go. In light of some recent health challenges, I have been struggling to let go of the idea that my body will always be a strong and reliable partner for my mind and spirit.
If we’re going to live peacefully with each other and with our Godgiven Earth, many of us are going to have to let some things fall away. We have to let go of the idea that we can keep burning fossil fuels and producing material goods without limit. We have to give up the notion that we have a God-given right to luxury and convenience at any social and environmental cost.
And as we face the consequences of our collective choices—a changing climate, the loss of habitat and species, landscapes irreparably scarred by human abuse, and human communities that suffer from poverty and injustice—we have to let go of the illusion that our presence on this planet has been merely benign.
Letting go isn’t easy. Even many trees, like oaks, beech, and ironwood, cling to their dead leaves throughout most of the winter. In fact, I don’t think it can be done without trust—as Jesus had when he submitted to the cross—that we are held in strong hands, which will never let us go, and that our empty hands and open hearts might receive new and even more precious gifts.
Kyle Kramer writes a monthly column for St. Anthony Messenger called, “At Home on Earth.” To read more, and to subscribe to this award-winning Franciscan publication, click here!