I saw the first leaf fall. Wafting slowly back and forth, on that windless day, making its way from the sky to the surface of our driveway. I was just getting out of the car. Home from some retirement errands out in the COVID world. I glanced toward the front door and there it came, slipping into my awareness from above. Yellow leaf. Now on the ground, all of its peers still clinging to the trees overhead. Others, with the chill of fall air, will soon drop. A melancholy moment.

What is ending? What is beginning? What will winter bring?

My 69th birthday is here. In one year, the kid will be 70. I am still a kid, after all, somehow in my mind, as I gaze out at the world from behind my bifocal glasses. In the car, my thoughts, as so often these days, had been occupied with troubling things. Kids, the mother of two little girls, ages 8 and 10, my nephew’s wife, age 38, fights a type of cancer that only one in a million are victimized by. In the history of Mayo Clinic, hers is only the 40th case they’ve faced. She is expected to die today, tomorrow or maybe the next day. Lungs no longer able to function, she will make the decision as to when her life-sustaining respirator is turned off. How can that be? When to say goodbye. Our local hospital intensive care beds are filled to capacity with COVID-19 cases, most unvaccinated. Racism continues to raise its ugly head all around us. Public displays of hate have become far more frequent and seemingly more acceptable — on airlines, at school board meetings, in grocery stores, on the highway, in city neighborhoods where parents fearfully tuck their children into bed each night. Droughts. Fires. Hurricanes. War. Refugees.

I saw the first leaf fall. On Facebook, recently, I spotted an anonymous reflection. The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go. I shared it. Seemed like a hopeful word to this kid who grew up in the northwoods where each year, as fall embraced them, the maple, birch, ash, poplar and tamarack all turned bright and beautiful in a rainbow of colors. All of this after lush summers displaying deep, vivid and varying shades of green there in the midst of the evergreen pines, spruce, balsam and cedar trees. So beautiful. So amazing.

The first leaf to fall signaled the end of the season of bounty. It played its part in the busyness of the season of harvest. It brought reminders that nature’s season of rest was coming. Here in Minnesota, we will all spend more time inside during the coming weeks. Warmth. Protection. Spread of disease. Eating summer bounty. Stoking up winter fires. Thankful for the good. Praying for deliverance from the evil.

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The first leaf to fall. One in a million. We can’t catch all the falling leaves. Winter is going to come. But we know the new life and possibilities of spring and summer await on the other side. So, we do what we can, our own little part, to help this limping, yet amazing old world to be the best that it can be. One day at a time. Helpful. Hopeful. Hopeful that beyond the canopy and in the midst of the trees and the bounty and the pandemic and the cancer, someone cares.

More leaves are falling...

Darrell Pedersen is a retired ELCA pastor.