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  • Writer's picturePaul Cotter

The Love of Leaves

Slow shutter motion blur of colorful fall leaf against white background

One of my earliest childhood memories is walking through fallen leaves on a crisp autumn day. I was shuffling my feet through the dry leaves on a dirt path, and my tiny sneakers made a SWISH-SWISH sound that brought a smile to my ears.

I've always felt a strong connection to leaves, and fall is still my favorite time of year.

Four years ago, I wrote an article titled I Am a Leaf that shared the spiritual lessons I learned from leaves after receiving some unsettling news about my health. The article, which featured five "leaf portraits" that I had photographed, was published in the online magazine for the international Grateful Living network.

This summer, four years after that article appeared, a new round of tests finally delivered a conclusive diagnosis: I have Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a rare form of blood cancer. Fortunately, the spiritual strength I wrote about in I Am a Leaf is still going strong and I feel surprisingly calm. But I have to admit: Every now and then, a touch of melancholy can slip in, uninvited – and when it does, it's easy to start feeling sorry for myself.

I had one of those melancholy days last week while I was sitting in the dentist chair. The hygienist was peppering me with cheerful questions like "Got any fun plans for this weekend?" and I wasn't in the mood for small talk. I was feeling sad about my situation, and chatting while getting my teeth scraped wasn't helping.

And then something wonderful happened. After the dentist visit was finished, I walked outside and I saw gorgeous fall leaves hanging from a tree branch just outside the door. The autumn morning sun was at a low angle behind the leaves, lighting them up with radiant shades of yellow that glowed like stained glass.

It was such a beautiful, soul-stirring sight, I felt like a happy little boy again, back when I was shuffling my feet through dried fallen leaves.

In that moment, I had an important realization: It's not life's job to make me happy. It's my job to find the joy in life by observing and appreciating the small wonders and everyday miracles that are all around me, everywhere, every minute of my life.

This realization was another gift given to me from leaves. More than ever before, I'm grateful for their kindness and wisdom.

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