“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32 (KJV)
I stood looking out our front door window at the cherry tree in our yard. Almost all of its leaves have fallen, and its branches look starkly bare against the sky. There are a few of them still hanging on for dear life; I counted 23, and they are beautiful. No longer the deep green of the summer, they have now made their metamorphosis into varying shades of red, yellow, and burnt orange. I figure they, too will fall off within the next few days, and the branches will stay bare until the spring comes in late March or early April. Then, the whole process will be repeated, and hopefully, we will all get to enjoy the stages of beauty once again.
The life of a leaf has many stages, and they kind of remind me of human life. First it buds in the early spring. Then it grows into a full-grown green leaf full of life and color. It stays on the branch, attached to it and green, until fall comes. It is then changed into another color, and it begins to die. As soon as a strong wind or rain comes, it falls off the tree and lies on the ground….waiting. Either for the wind to blow it away, or to lie on the ground through the winter months, eventually disintegrating into the ground.
The other day, I raked a huge pile of fallen leaves in the yard, and they fulfilled one last purpose before they either become nourishing compost for the soil or are blown away by the wind. They provided Zachary with hours of fun. He took some toys outside and buried them in the pile I had raked together, and then he played the game of finding them. He didn’t want to come inside; he was having such a wonderful time. Even though the leaves have fallen off the tree, they are still very beautiful to look at, and they still have purpose and usefulness.
People are useful, too. No matter how old they become or how unnecessary they feel. Elderly people kind of remind me of fallen leaves. It is especially noticeable when you walk through a nursing home…bless their hearts, it is like they are just waiting to die and they no longer feel useful. They should always be made to feel that they still have purpose and that they mean something, long after they have come aside from an active lifestyle. The mindset of our society seems to imply that after a person is no longer able to contribute by actively working a job and paying taxes, they are a drain on the system. This way of thinking makes me very, very sad, because we are losing out on so much by not listening to their stories and learning from their wisdom.
I have a cedar chest in our room that I have cherished for many years. It was given to me when I was 16 years old. I was working part-time in a nursing home, and one of the residents became especially dear to me. She was a tiny, little lady who was very stooped and fragile. She had a raspy, frail voice, and I had to really strain to understand her when she talked. But, I always took time to listen to her and let her tell me her stories. She was a generous, caring little soul, and one day she told me she had some things she wanted to give to me. One of the items was the beautiful cedar chest I still use and treasure. It seemed to give her so much joy to know that I would have her things….it just seemed to give her a sense of still contributing something useful to the world around her. I think she needed that.
Kevin’s Dad is becoming more and more feeble. He is no longer able to care for even his own basic, personal needs, and the strain is becoming much harder for Mom S. to deal with. He talks a lot about dying and how his days on earth are numbered. But, an amazing thing happens when Kevin walks into the room. Dad Smith makes a transformation! Kevin is the apple of Dad’s eye, and it gives him new zest just to see him. He tries with all his might to keep Kevin from seeing the ever-increasing loss of his own vitality, so I think he pushes harder when Kevin is around. Kevin treats him with respect and encourages him to stay active by trying to involve him in projects while we are there. It makes Dad feel useful again…if only for a little while.
How about you, my friend? Is there some special “fallen leaf” in your life who still has beauty and worth and value and whose day would be brightened by a visit from you? Maybe they’ve stopped feeling valuable and loved, and just seeing you would give them renewed vigor and courage to try again. Maybe you could think of something the two of you could do together to make them feel necessary again. Perhaps YOU are the apple of some aged person’s eye, and they would give anything just to share some of your time....and some of their stories. The elderly are as precious to the heart of God as the young and strong. They have a wealth of wisdom and knowledge to share…they just need someone to pass it on to.