The Last Leaf

A snow-covered poplar bush, with only a few golden leaves

Once, many grey autumns ago, I came upon a tree. The tree, a poplar, had dropped all of its leaves but for one, just one. Exactly one leaf remained near the topmost part of the tree, fluttering in the breeze like a little reddish-brown flag. All of the other leaves lay about the ground or had blown away.

I stopped and looked and marveled at the sight. I wondered what the odds might be that I was the one person who happened to arrive at that one tree at that one moment when but one leaf remained. What were the odds?
I felt an instant kinship with the one leaf. I admired its stubbornness. I spoke quietly to it, “Hang on. Never give up. Don’t let go!”

I gazed at the last leaf for a time, though I did not stay to witness its falling. I did not want to witness its falling. The leaf was not ready to let go and drop silently to the ground, and neither was I—though I knew we both would, in time, let go.

I praised the last leaf on that autumn day many years ago, when I was still young. I walked on and slowly, imperceptibly, a sense of calm came over me. A sense of acceptance. A sense of peace.

The exuberance of summer is gone. Grand plans and high hopes give way to chilly reality. We loved as best we could, we’ve reaped as much as we could, we’ve traveled life’s journey as far as we could. We count our blessings and our losses. All leaves must fall.

The circle of the year comes round. Our hemisphere tilts away from the sun. Green turns to gold. Life returns to the soil. Animals retreat. The nights grow long. The natural world lies fallow. The season of letting go comes as it always comes. Winter begins.