As I was walking through the woods one day, I looked around to find I had strayed from the path. The day was bright and clear and I sat down on a mossy old stone to think. I enjoyed the sunshine and the cool breeze that played on my skin, soaking in the day. The trees rustled in the wind and as I listened, I started to hear a small sobbing. I looked around for the source but was unable to find it.
“Up here, up here,” called out a small voice. I looked up to see a leaf shivering on its branch.
“What’s wrong?” I asked the leaf.
“My edges are soon to turn. First yellow, then red, and finally brown. After that, I will die. I’ll fall to the ground and no longer be a leaf.”
“But you will grow back in the springtime,” I said.
“Will I? A leaf will grow back, but will it be me?” It asked with a quiver in its voice.
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully, ”but you are just a small part of the tree that is the rest of your true self.”
“I’m not a tree, I’m just a little leaf, and I am afraid the weather is getting colder. Soon it will be autumn.”
“You can’t have a tree without leaves.” I argued. ”Without you the tree would wither and die.”
“Don’t say that!” The leaf cried, shivering even harder. “That would be even worse!”
“But even if that happened, the tree is part of something more, part of vast networks that cover this land and go on and on, symbiotically helping one another.”
“But I wouldn’t be a leaf anymore! I don’t know what it’s like to be one tree let alone hundreds at once! It would be so different I can’t even picture it.”
“I don’t know what it’s like to be anything other than a person because that’s what I am at the moment, and so I have the experiences of a person. In the same way, all you know is how to be a leaf.”
“It’s scary to be something I don’t know.”
“You already know what it’s like to be a tree, you never stopped being one.”
“But I don’t remember it,” said the leaf, its shivering beginning to die down.
“I don’t really remember being a child but it shaped who I am now. I don’t know who I’ll be in ten or twenty years but the experiences I’m having now will shape that too.”
”I don’t have that much time, I’m just a leaf. My days are short and may be made shorter if someone picks me, or. Sky forbid, a caterpillar eats me. That’s how Jeff and Tony went, they were screaming for days.”
“What is time but the endless cycle of birth and decay? For you to become a tree, you must cease to be a leaf.”
The leaf was quiet for a while.
“Will I like being a tree?”
“Probably as much as you like being a leaf now.”
It was quiet again.
“How can you be sure I’ll become a tree?”
I pondered the question for a few minutes, sitting with my back up against the trunk. “I’m not,” I finally said. “In truth, you’re not locked to being a tree. I’m sure parts of your nutrients will go to the trees, but some will go to the bugs, and some will go to bacteria and fungi.”
“I don’t want to be a bug!” shouted the leaf. “Bugs are awful!”
I chuckled under my breath. “I’m not saying you’ll be a bug, I’m saying you’ll be a bug and another leaf and mycelium. You’ll be the universe, your truest form.”
“Will it hurt?” asked the leaf.
“About as much as being born,” I replied.
“I don’t remember being born.”
“Neither do I.”
“I won’t remember any of this will I? The tree, the breeze, even the bugs.”
“No you won’t. But on the plus side you’ll get to meet them all again, maybe not the same bugs or trees or even bugs and trees at all, maybe something completely beyond what we currently think of as real and solid! You will get to meet the world all over again and it will be just as beautiful and terrifying as it is right here, right now, in this moment.”
“I like meeting new things.”
“So do I, little leaf.”
The leaf said nothing and we lived in silence, together and apart, for a moment and for eternity as the day faded into dusk.
“Thank you for talking with me.” It said as I finally stood and stretched my arms over my head.
“Thank you for asking me to.”
I walked away and the world darkened around me. Finding the path once more I continued on my way. As I walked I looked up past the trees and their leaves to the sky above, and I smiled as I saw the first stars.