Day 96: “Looking at the Forest – And Seeing the Leaves”

Before I write anything else today, I’m going to come right out and admit that this entry is going to be an overwrought, overextended metaphor. (You’ve been warned.)

I was driving through my hometown this afternoon and looking at the densely forested mountain ridge that separates the main downtown street from the secondary road where I live.

One of the great things about the forests where I live is that they’re filled with various deciduous and evergreen trees, making fall a festival of browns, greens, reds, oranges, yellows. When I first looked at the mix of color on the mountainside this afternoon, I had the same reaction that most people have when they see the colors of fall – “Isn’t that beautiful?” – but the more I looked at it, the more I began to think about what looking at all those colors can help us realize about ourselves.

Appalachian forests is beautiful in autumn, because each and every tree, whatever its color, co-exists beside – and in harmony with – the trees around it.

It’s easy to stop there, to see the entire forest as nothing more than a collective mass of trees. But stopping there is selling the forest short, because it’s no less inspiring as a group of individual trees, each with its own unique beauty, no greater and no lesser than the beauty of those around it.

The green of the pine – and the orange and the red of the maple – and the yellow of the oak – in no way diminish the other trees. In fact, if anything, they enhance and complement each other – more beautiful because they’re each accented and complemented by their differences even as they’re all connected by their similarities.

It’s easy to stop there, to see each of the trees as nothing more than a collective mass of leaves. But stopping there is selling the trees short, because they’re no less inspiring as a group of individual leaves, each with its own unique beauty, no greater and no lesser than the beauty of those around it.

The shapes of the points – and the curves of the veins – and the mottling of color and individual flaws of each leaf in no way diminish the other leaves. In fact, if anything, they enhance and complement each other – more beautiful because they’re each accented and complemented by their differences even as they’re all connected by their similarities.

It’s easy to say we have a favorite – that the red maple or the yellow oak is somehow more beautiful than the others. But have often have you stopped to look more closely at a leaf – to get to know it’s curves and lines and flaws, to notice what makes it different than any other leaf you’ve ever seen, to pick it up and hold it in your hand and appreciate it without trying to compare it to another leaf?

If we can do it with a leaf – or with a tree – or with a forest, why can’t we do it with ourselves?

Why can’t we recognize the beauty of humanity – and the beauty of the groups (however we might choose to classify ourselves – age, gender, nationality, race, sexuality) within that whole – and the beauty of the individuals within those groups?

This weekend, when you walk outside, take a minute – or even an hour – to let yourself enjoy the beauty and diversity surrounding you – not just in the leaves you see on the trees, but in the faces you see on the street – recognize the sameness, even as you recognize and value the differences that make each and every one of them – and each and every one of us – beautiful.

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