The leaves come down in our neighborhood from the giant buttonwoods with silence and surrender. Usually, it's autumnal color that engages me, but this year, with my two year old son, Sevi, what's landing or landed on the ground has become the priority. In September, when I taught him that maple trees have seeds with uniquely entertaining properties, the better part of two months came with the daily request of "Dadd-o, play helicopter seeds." My wife and I have since cleared whole blocks of maple seeds, discussed aerodynamics, compared damp to dry seeds and examined the impact of tossing singular or whole bunches at once. We often launch them and chime in late with the "tookuhtookuhtookuh" imitation of a chopper.
Then one day, during a family walk/helicopter seed quest in our local wildlife refuge, things got magical. The wind and branches hit just right, and leaves trailed to the ground for a solid minute from everywhere, cascading with a cinematic reverence. The beauty was overwhelming. It marked a set of months where leaves have been falling all over my life.
In August, Renew Pictures began surfacing in earnest, and the shedding of years of preconceptions and various pieces of baggage, professional and otherwise, began falling away. In September and October, my mother-in-law confronted her last miles with a brain tumor. She died in an unforeseen crescendo as a 14-month prognosis turned to five - inevitable but sudden. In November, my community of faith devoted a whole service to loss, its pain and its healing, and the group of colleagues with whom I engage at the Heart of Business is spending November focused on pruning and letting go.
Death of people and things in all of its severity and uncertainty have become woven into my life as a way of seeing and being. It exacts unrivaled inner and outer pain that has acted upon me in ways that have recreated and re-ordered me. It has systemically stripped away part of my false self, any sense of control, any delusion of ego-driven capacity. It's renewed me.
When we told Sevi that his Grammy had died, we did so by saying that she left her body and that even though that was the case, she was still all around and with us in many different ways. He looked at his mom and me for a long time.
"Grammy died," he said.
"Play helicopter seeds. Play now."