It’s peak color season where I live. I’m probably supposed to tell you, “The trees are blazing with brilliant reds,” or something before talking about each leaf stirring in a gentle breeze, then lazily falling to the ground. And then I’d go on about the beauty of creation for 500 words.
But I’m not going to do that.
We delight in the beauty of trees losing their leaves, but they aren’t actually losing them. They’re throwing them off.
Trees don’t just allow their leaves to shrivel up, and then passively wait around for a strong wind to come and shake them loose. We have this idea that the trees are tucking themselves in right now, drawing inward and getting all cozy for winter, but they aren’t going to sleep right now. They’re hard at work, producing abscission cells that will sever each leaf at its stem.
Leaves don’t fall off. Each leaf is chopped off by its tree.
Trees are geniuses. They won’t carry unproductive parts of themselves into the long winter.
The beauty of Fall for me isn’t in the colors or those leaves slowly spiraling down outside my window. The beauty is in self-preservation. Trees do what they need to do to thrive, and that’s beautiful.
Maybe this Fall is a time to turn inward and assess what we need to protect and preserve about ourselves. What unproductive bits of our lives do we need to actively chop off?
We all have some level of stress. That’s unavoidable. If you’re breathing, you’re under stress. But there are different types of stress: productive and unproductive.
In my life, productive stress would be parenting. Yes, it’s stressful sometimes and it takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth the stress and effort because I’m accomplishing something.
Productive stress is writing about trauma. It’s not fun, but it’s helpful to some people, so there’s a reason to continue.
Unproductive stress is something like rage-reading extremist articles I know I’m going to hate, not because I’m curious about what other people think or because I think I’ll learn something, but because I know I’m going to read something totally ridiculous that will outrage me.
Unproductive stress is spending hours arguing with someone when they’re unwilling to acknowledge truth as truth.
Unproductive stress is enabling irresponsibility by cleaning up other people’s mistakes.
If discomfort is allowing me to move forward, there’s a point to it. If I’m stressed out while standing still, why bother? Why use up the energy?
There are stressors in life we can control and ones we can’t.
I can’t control the current cultural and political atmosphere, but I can control how much I might indulge my worst instincts in response to both. I’m not talking about avoiding politics or even avoiding anger, but there’s a difference between anger and outrage over injustice and getting into fights with random internet trolls.
I can’t control what other people do or say, but I can control my reactions. I can choose to not engage. I can choose to not help someone who created their own problems. I can choose to walk away when I’m not being treated with respect. I can choose to go with some productive stress and hold someone accountable for their actions.
I can choose to cut off some of the unproductive stressors in my life. I can’t just sit around and wait for those stressors to dry up and fall of on their own. I have to be active. I have to take a long look at my life and evaluate which parts can go. It’s hard. We get so used to doing certain things that we start to believe those things are necessary.
Right now, what’s really necessary is for us to exercise some self-preservation. Protect our energy levels from being depleted by what isn’t necessary so we have plenty of energy to fight the fights that matter.
We can pour that reclaimed energy into prayer and good works. We have a lot of work to do. Sometimes that work is on ourselves. The stronger we are, the more effective we’ll be.
This Fall, let’s be trees.