Joy wells when I see that so many leaves are carpeting the back yard right now the whole place practically glows. The trees, black and brown outlines against an opaque-blue dawn, stand sentinel over what they’ve just deposited all over the ground.
Even though, technically, what has been strewn onto the walking path at the back side of the house is dead, it is beautiful. The kind of beauty that chokes the throat and brims the eye. I don’t know why my heart sings when I see it, it just does.
I don’t have the heart to rake them up.
I decide to let them be.
I wade slowly through a magical pond of yellow.
Earlier in the week, leaves from the red maples at the front of the house were gathered and now sit as three mounded triangles all browned up and dead for real. I’d raked them up days ago, but the next day it had turned bitter cold, and after coming down with a bout of shingles, I didn’t have it in me to deposit them to the mulch pile. I’d spent the better half of the day before hauling pile after pile to the bamboo patch, but I pushed myself too hard so these last three would have to wait. Their days are numbered. It is just a matter of time before I drag them to the outer darkness that is the side of the house where I’ve been dumping leaves for the last twenty years.
Even the golden beauties in the backyard will eventually curl on themselves and brittle up. They will most likely blow away, ending up in the Little Androscoggin River at the end of the road.
There is always one day in late Autumn when the wind howls hard and long and all the lawn carpets get scraped clean, the debris swooshed into the stream across from the winter berry bush I prune every year for its splash of red.
Everything is numbered. God, Himself, is in the numbering business.
Leaves on trees.
Grains of sand.
Stars in the heavens.
Hairs on my head.
Days of my life.
Apparently, some things are meant to be counted.
The children in my classroom love to announce they know what the biggest number is, the number that is the last number ever.
I’ve heard this refrain for the better part of seventeen years. The biggest number they come up with is always something like ten million, billion, ka-trillion,gajillion, quadrillion. Right, Mrs. McKellick?
I always smile and say, Remember, there is always ten million, billion, ka-trillion, gajillion, quadrillion… and one. When I say this, every single time the child face falls and darkens. Then, suddenly they smile, too, when they realize that counting numbers goes on forever, because forever to a child is a magical thing.
Some things are meant for forever, like souls and love and faith and hope.
The very words of Jesus that speak and are still speaking go on and on into eternity.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Some things are meant to end and will, like suffering…hate…despair.
“and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
All these march to a timetable we do not know.
Yet, there are timetables we do know, where flesh and blood live out a daily routine. It is here that we do some of our own counting.
I step into the Art room at school on a Thursday and like every other Thursday before, it’s the same. The scent of hot glue and wax crayon mixing with the odors of paint and wet paper assaults my nostrils. Here the cacophony of children’s voices, sometimes joyful, sometimes irritating, pierces the ear as the stuff of creative abandon gets played out in forty minutes. I love it.
I have three more Thursdays. Three more Thursdays where I will watch over young humans furrow the brow and squint the eye to bring about their next masterpiece. Three more Thursdays where I get to scrape glue off my hands and dodge permanent marker being wielded by an unaware fourth grader. Three more Thursdays to encourage the maneuvering of scissors around tight spaces and I get three more Thursdays to look one of those humans in the eye as he holds up his creation and I will say with all honesty, “It’s beautiful.”
All my Mondays through Fridays at Elm Street School are numbered.
I know this like I know the leaves in the backyard are numbered, having given up their summer splendor to die for a little while. My time at school is waning like the last fade of Autumn. So I wade through the hallways slowly when I can, thinking that here too, is it sometimes magical. Some days you can actually see it; the wonder, the understanding of a concept, a truth, come to life all over a child’s face.
Winter is coming and this chapter is coming to a close. However, this life being God’s glorious art room, I know there will be color again.