Growing up in the South, there was something that always pulled my heart towards an old oak tree. Maybe it was their old world charm, the ability to survive a brutal lightning storm, or the uncanny strength to withstand many generations. But then there were the discarded leaves. It was always the leaves that caught my attention.
As kids, this was the very first tree we ever learned how to climb. Scraping our knees against rough, unforgiving bark, we would hike our way to the top of sprawling branches—never fearing a fall because in our eyes, they were strong, unwavering, and protective against the ground below our feet.
As we got older, we forgot all about tree climbing and met our first love. The one who captured our heart and in our eyes, roped the moon during those smoldering, late July afternoons that every summer in the southern states bring. We would sit for hours beneath the oak’s shaded canopy and exchange secrets of our past, present, and if the cards played just right, our future. Of course, like most young love, the future became only a nostalgic memory in the form of two faded initials, carved within a heart, on an aged and weathered trunk.
A few years and many life lessons later, the heart whispers to one’s soul “that’s the one” and once again we find ourselves beneath the oak’s sturdy boughs as promises of forever embrace our lips in hopes of an unforgettable shared journey together.
Days turn into weeks and months into years and eventually, that majestic oak tree, the one who watched us grow up, becomes a distant memory in the mind of one’s youth long forgotten. The church bells ring the solemn song we all know to well—a reminder that forever isn’t really forever at all— and a casket is lowered into the soft earth beneath the tree’s roots. Roots that represent who we once were, what we became, and where our heart has always called home.
Look closely and notice the leaves. For they simply aren’t discarded without just cause. Each leaf serves as a memory of a hand held, a first kiss, a life lost, a new beginning from those that have journeyed before our time.
Perhaps if you listen close enough, you will hear the warm summer breeze bend and sway through the oak’s branches, carrying with it the tree’s mournful call for those it grew to endlessly love, to desperately return.