As we are getting close to the fall season when the leaves will begin to drop, I'm reminded of a poignant moment in my past. In 1981, before graduating from Loyola University in Social Work, I did not know what I really wanted to do next in my life. I had explored some work and volunteer opportunities before graduating, and fortunately, was accepted to participate in a year of volunteer work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Southwest California; this is similar to doing the Vista version of the Peace Corps.
In August of that year, I was assigned—with seven other like-minded post-graduates (two other men and five women) from all around the country who wanted to "change the world”—to the Tulare, California, community in the San Joaquin Valley. I had never lived in a community setting like a fraternity, so this was something very new to me. We spent about four days in orientation in San Jose with many others who were being assigned to other communities in the California area.
The emphasis for us was to live simply and to be change agents for Christ in whatever ways we could, through the human services programs we would be working in. My assignment was to help outreach to isolated elders in the area who were not accessing behavioral care services. We were not consecrated Catholic religious, but all happened to be lay people of the same faith who sincerely sought to make a simple difference in the lives of the people we touched and whom we were blessed to serve.
No sooner had we gotten settled into our residence in the rural town of Tulare than we were faced with a crisis. Besides just getting to know each other, designate appropriate rooming, chores, etc., all of a sudden, Robbie received a shocking call from her home state of Connecticut: one of her classmates was reported to have committed suicide.
As we gathered around Robbie and did the best we could, as newly formed friends, to awkwardly extend our care and concern, the Holy Spirit inspired me with this poem, which I shared with her and the community:
Fall has come, the leaves are scattered
Sometimes it’s really scary, has it really mattered?
Sometimes it’s really scary, why do I feel so shattered?
One mere leaf has freely fallen to the ground
Yet its single drop has caused the world to hear its sound
One among many, what makes it my concern?
Its life has touched my own and fostered what I yearn
No, I simply can’t go out and rake away
The withered, lifeless leaf that’s freely fallen down today
But I can let it rest if I’m free to let it go
Yet the freedom that sustains my own life at this point seems so low
The harshness of winter looms on ahead
The coldness is surely something that I dread
But the warmth is there around you—you’re never all alone
Loved ones are reaching out to comfort you at home
Together we will grow and in our hearts we’ll know
That love draws all together despite the changes in the weather
And spring brings forth our lifeline, the trees, with leaves anew
And each one’s so important, especially me and you
And yes, that leaf that freely fell will always be a part of you.
Robbie and all of us struggled through that particular situation, but found that the experience strengthened the united bond that we already shared. What had been a very difficult moment had actually helped immensely then, and many other times later on, each of us that year.
In 2001, in order to keep up with my Social Work CEUs, I attended a professional workshop presented by the late Sr. Rita about grief counseling. In her presentation, she used examples from Leo Buscaglia's classic fable, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, which is a great resource for anyone dealing with grief. As noted by some reviewers, this classic fable is “dedicated to all children who have ever suffered a permanent loss, and to the grown-ups who could not find a way to explain it.”
I couldn't believe the way that the poem tied in so well with the book. Providence, not coincidence!