I went for a walk in the woods on a damp, chilly morning recently. I was enjoying the weather and the beauty of the leaves turning shades of red, gold, and yellow. They look especially pretty on wet mornings as the damp seems to make the fall colors more vibrant.
Stopping on a bridge, I found myself looking down at the creek and listening intently to the sound of water. I became mesmerized by the trickling and, more acutely, by the movement of the water on this very still morning. It seemed the only thing around that wasn’t still, or that had any purpose in its action. The only other things moving were leaves falling lazily to the ground when nudged by intermittent and slight breezes.
I stood very still and listened to the sound and watched the water. Then, walking slowly along the creekside, I noticed a leaf clinging to a branch sticking up out of the water. It wasn’t attached, but just hung on the branch. The water was tickling the leaf; encouraging it to flow downstream.
The leaf trembled.
It seemed to me very much like someone wanting to jump into the water, but afraid of what the experience might be like. It shook and clung as the water spun and twirled.
Silently, I encouraged the little leaf with my thoughts, urging it to go with the flow. “You’ll never get where you’re going if you don’t begin,” I thought.
It let go of the branch.
I watched its progress and cheered it on.
The little leaf floated easily along for a while, twisting and turning a bit more than seemed necessary and beyond what the water was causing, but it was traveling and in a lively way.
And then . . . it abruptly swirled to the side and hung itself on a branch again. Sigh.
Lots of other leaves were moving along, and many passed the little leaf as it clung once again to a branch and trembled at the water’s urgings.
“Don’t give up,” I whispered.
Then another leaf, a large bright yellow one, fell from above and landed right in the middle of the stream. It curled itself into a very useful boat shape and proceeded to flow easily and gently downstream confident in its journey. I thought, “this leaf is unafraid and will get to its destination.”
Suddenly, the yellow leaf picked up speed and began flowing along so quickly I could scarcely keep up. I felt confirmed in my sense of confidence for the leaf. For a moment.
I looked back at the cautious little leaf on the branch and it had let go and was drifting along in the middle of the stream with apparent ease. I glanced ahead to check on the fast yellow leaf. It was now caught in an eddy and spiraled wildly until it was caught quite firmly in the branches of a clump of fallen limbs.
The little cautious leaf drifted past.
I thought for moment about my observations. At first the cautious little leaf seemed doomed to cling to the sides of the creek in fear never to reach its journey’s true fulfillment. It had a precarious start. Then after some success, decided it needed to rest before going on. Finally, the little leaf found its stride and flowed on down the river. The fast yellow leaf began its journey with aplomb – a dramatic entrance and speedy progress. Until it was caught in a rapid current and crashed into the branches to be once-and-for-all stuck.
Sometimes life feels like this. We think we’re too cautious or that jumping in with both feet is crazy. Or we see ourselves as wisely careful or bravely daring. In any case, these are ideas about ourselves that ultimately are just that: ideas. It’s only when we look back that we can see which actions brought what outcomes.
And we never know what the river is going to do. Life is about adapting to the flow of the current.