This evening, with the dusky sunlight suffusing the air with gold and pearl, I stopped to snap photos of some autumn leaves.
I love autumn. It’s my favorite set of months, and each time I remember that it’s fall now I’m filled with anticipation of Thanksgiving, family time and the coming holidays. I adore pumpkin spices, warm cinnamon, fresh apples, steaming lattes and crisp evenings. And I love the colors of the season.
It’s splendid to watch the trees change color. Green turns to red turns to brown and gray, like a sunset in slow motion fading to night.
This summer, though, I watched with dismay as some of the pine trees on campus faded to brown. I don’t know why this happened. Perhaps it has something to do with the drought we’ve been experiencing, but that doesn’t explain why so many other trees survived. I’m guessing it might have been an insect infestation or disease of some sort, but I really don’t know.
I don’t like this kind of color change, this dulling to rust and brown. Evergreens weren’t meant to be brown like this.
It’s not at all like fall. The brilliant red leaves of the liquid amber can fade to auburn, and the flaming bracts of the trees outside my window can dull to a muddied gray, but that won’t stir the same vague sense of loss that these dying pines awaken in me. There is something lonely about a lifeless pine. Perhaps it is because I grew up where pines stretch to brush the azure sky, singing in the wind. Or perhaps it is because I know it will be at least half a century before a tree this thick-trunked and tall stands in this place again.
Fallen pine needles, like the strains of a song fading into silence.
It makes me wonder…why is it that the same series of color changes can stir anticipation and joy in one situation, and sadness in another?
As I thought about this, I realized it’s because with the autumn trees, I know the time of leafless branches will be followed again by spring. It’s not permanent, while these dead pines are. They won’t bud again next year.
But the other trees will.
And so fall colors are colors of hope.
I paused to catch the simple yin and yang of a feather against a fallen leaf, the soft, gray down of a mourning dove’s plume against the crackling backdrop of earthbound foliage. The similarity of their form is striking, perhaps further highlighting the sharp contrast of their textures.
It’s like life. The dichotomy of what we experience–the good against the bad–ultimately helps us to more fully recognize and appreciate the good.
I suppose this is why we do what we do in medicine. Our work is built upon hope–the hope of something good on the other side of suffering, whether that takes the form of a cure or the giving of comfort. As I delve further into my life as a second-year, I’m beginning to realize everything is deeper, bigger, and more complicated than I had imagined. I spent some days these past few weeks shadowing in the ICU, and sometimes I’m left wondering how I fit into this intricate network of human suffering and joy. What can I give?
I can be a hope-bearer. I can help people find hope. Maybe it’s not the hope of everything turning out how we wanted or planned, but rather the hope that springs from knowing there are people who truly care and love. I still have a lot to learn about this, but this is a beginning.
This is the loss of green. The loss of the fresh, living spring and the vibrant, bursting summer. But it is still beautiful, so beautiful. I can love the fall because I know the trees will bud again, and this hope frees me to fully embrace the spicy, glorious, flame-filled wonder of this season.
This is the color of hope.