This morning, in the bathroom, I noticed that there was a scrap of leaf on the ground. Someone had no doubt tracked it in from the outside. I picked it up, and for the first time in my life, really looked at a leaf.
I realize that beginning an essay this way can make a reader wince, sure that I’m going to descend into a New Age meditation that will be begging for the mention of healing crystals. For the record, I don’t think that there’s anything bad about healing crystals, but I have read meditations on healing crystals that have made me say “thanks, but I think I’ll go a traditional doctor.” I’m all for looking at health in a holistic way, and I do, but at times such essays seem to indicate a belief that there is only one way to look at the world; I hope I don’t do that here.
No, all that I’m saying is that I spend most of my days pretty much like everyone else, thinking about what I need to do with the day, and what I want to do with it. Today, I’m having breakfast with my friend Joe, and then I’m probably going to check out the publications of The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’m learning the business of getting published in the children’s book world, and want to learn more.
So yes, I have things that I will do with my day. Still, there is something to be said for taking a break from that every now and then, letting those things be silent, and just focusing on the particular moment in which I’m living. So at a particular moment this morning, I just looked at this leaf.
It was dried up, and most of it was crumbled away. The central structure of it was intact, but the sides where missing, so that only the veins were left.
I just kept looking at it.
I noticed, for the first time, that a leaf doesn’t just have a couple of major veins that branch out from the stem. These veins in turn lead to other, smaller veins that branch out from these major veins. I then saw, with my naked eye, what appeared to be a network of even smaller veins that spanned the entire surface of the leaf.
I thought about the blood that courses through my veins, and realized, at that moment, that for this leaf, and the tree from which it came, water was blood. No, perhaps it doesn’t carry oxygen to the plant (although the oxygen in the water may do something; I know nothing about botany), but it keeps it alive, and allows the chloroplasts to do their work, converting that energy from light into energy that kept this leaf alive. I started to think about how plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and wondered how water fits into all of this.
I looked around. Yesterday’s sweats were on the floor, and a couple of towels were hanging on the racks. I thought about how these towels are made of cotton, and how virtually every article of clothing that I own was once a living thing, just like this leaf.
This made me think of all of the things around us that are composed of things that were once living. I thought of synthetic fabrics, and the inorganic compounds from which they came. What elements formed those fabrics, I wondered.
I thought about how, if I looked not at a leaf but at a similar thing that was part of an animal, I would have been queasy. Yet here I was, looking at something shorn of most of its flesh, the veins exposed, and it didn’t affect me at all. It was just this dead thing, and I was able to just look at it, and really study its structure.
How many other things, I thought at that moment, have I passed by but not really looked at? How many other sounds have I walked by, without really stopping to study them? Billions, perhaps.
I know this is nothing that most of us haven’t read or heard before. Still, it was nice to have this morning reminder that if I just stop and really look at something or listen to it, I’ll find things that I’ve never noticed before, even after 51 years. There is always something new to discover, and I can discover these things by simply, every once in a while, taking a break from my mental to do list and focusing on what’s directly in front of me.
I’ll toss this leaf on the ground later. It will decay, and become part of the mulch that will give birth to other plants, which will themselves have other leaves. And at some point, this will happen to me, and I will be mulch for something else that sporuts from the soil, takes in light, and, eventually, becomes someone’s food or clothing, or maybe, becomes a leaf that they contemplate.
Now onto breakfast with Joe. Eggs, sausage, toast, and coffee.
No, wait…cinnamon French toast. Megan says that the cinnamon French toast at Red’s is great. Awesome.