by: Todd Andrew Clayton
I was leaving work and I looked over my shoulder, out of the back window of my two-door, silver Mazda truck, to make sure I wasn’t going to hit anything when I pulled out of my parking spot.
The road was clear, but my eyes landed on a monumentally large tree across the street, reaching no less than 40 feet into the crisp, wintery air. The late-morning sun was sneaking its way through the branches and leaves, sending tubes of light through the fog that hung like hot breath on cold nights. It was windy that day.
The gusts came like punches.
Seconds after I noticed the tree, one of them hit — one of those arresting, blustery blows. It was like a giant stood behind the branches and, cupping his hands over his mouth, blew hard as he could. All at once, thousands of leaves shot from the tree.
Thousands of green, almond-shaped leaves.
Suspended for a moment, the leaves stood frozen before beginning their slow, deliberative dance toward the asphalt below.
“That’s exactly what heartbreak feels like,” I thought.
Life has a pernicious way, it seems, of quietly sidling up behind our limbs and catching us by surprise with its powerful, unexpected exhalations: that call you receive to tell you she’s in the hospital again, and this time it doesn’t look hopeful; the meeting request from your boss that seems all-too-foreboding; his watery eyes as he tells you he doesn’t love you back; the letter that says you won’t be attending next September. When they hit, the powerful blasts of reality, we’re left watching our leaves scatter, wishing we could somehow coax them back to where they so snugly sat during summer.
Where the natural seasons have an advantage is in their proverbially predictable pattern.
Winter always gives way to spring.
The seasons of the soul, however, tell an admittedly different tale. The gusts of heartbreak inevitably come, the deaths and disappointments and disparities and devastation, and before we’ve even caught our breath we’re standing naked and leafless in the dead of winter.
Without him, without it, without that, without her, we don’t think we’ll ever make it out of the cold. Some people never do.
Slowly, ever so slowly, if we begin to painfully examine ourselves, our leafless, job-less, boyfriend-less, parent-less selves, we recognize that beauty remains. Like the barren tree silhouetted on the mountainside, we become heralds of simplicity.
Friends still sit with us. Children still hug our knees. Songs still speak the words we’re pressed to find.
Until we learn to embrace our bare, exposed branches and recognize our worth apart from titles and talents, the buds of spring cannot surface, heralding new life.
When we learn to love ourselves, winter never wins.
The leaves rested on the ground until kicked up once again by the wheels of my truck as it passed over. In my rearview mirror, I watched them dance one last time before the road veered left.
Todd Andrew Clayton wishes he were good at soccer. He lives in San Diego & writes at coffee shops & in his living room. Someday, he hopes that he can write & get paid for it. Until then, he’s going to grad school. He likes Thai food & wants to go to Ireland before he dies.