All Saints’ Day, the falling leaves, and my dad’s last gift

All Saints’ Day.

I had a few moments to spare on my own before the church service, so I sat and watched the unbroken waves lapping the shores of Reeds Lake. A young man scolding his partner for letting their dog off leash. An old man cleaning his boat one last time before stowing it for the season.

The brilliant colors of fall — impossibly, still clinging to branches. The leaves have hung on longer than usual this year. But they can’t hold on forever.

Back at the church, we marched outside in solemn procession. Standing in the columbarium, surrounded by memorial plaques, we honored the dead and remembered that we too are destined to become dust. The choir sang of our mortality as I held my three-year-old close.

I thought about the leaves still clinging to their branches. Some faded brown, some still alive with red, yellow, and orange. It’s strange how leaves reach their peak of beauty just before they die.

I wondered if the same could be said of us — whether we give our greatest gift to the world as our hour approaches, or whether the inevitability of death drains the color and life from our veins long before our hearts give out.

It’s been hard not to think about death, ever since my dad passed away. When he was my age, he didn’t know it, but his life was already more than halfway done.

In the final weeks before the cancer reached his brain, my dad was the very best of himself. He knew his leukemia meant there wouldn’t be any bedtime stories with his first grandchild, born a month to the day before he died. But instead of becoming paralyzed by the injustice of it, he poured his strength — some of the last he had — into recording himself reading his favorite children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, for my daughter. His voice wavered at times, but it was strong and full of affection. He wouldn’t let a little thing like dying stop him from reading to his granddaughter someday. He wouldn’t allow the inevitability of his death to keep him from giving her this priceless gift.

On All Saints’ Day, we remember yet again that we are destined to return to dust. There is nothing I or any of us can do to escape this fate. But we can decide what kind of gift we’ll leave the world before we go.

2 thoughts on “All Saints’ Day, the falling leaves, and my dad’s last gift

  1. This is beautiful, Ben. What a gift your father left, not just with the recording, but in being the type of person who loved so fiercely and gave from his heart. Thank you for sharing this reflection and for the reminder to look for ways to give of ourselves.


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