A friend of mine is desperate. He says he is "hanging by a thread."
I believe we are at that crossing point in the autumn season. Many of the leaves have already fallen. The beautiful, radiant colors that decorated the hillsides have now turned brown. Although a ride in the countryside is still breathtaking, it has lost a little of its luster.
That's how my friend sees his life. The once sparkling, bubbly personality is much like the leaves that reached their peak and now just hang there, dried out, waiting to fall. My friend is just barely hanging on.
Hearing him speak so dimly about the most precious thing we have—life—just sends me into a sadness I haven't experienced since I too was depressed enough to want to die.
Oh, he really doesn't want to die. But he is holding a funeral for his vibrant spirit. He thinks it's dying. He wants to bury it. But you see it is alive—buried alive inside him beneath layers of doubt and thoughts of failure. He's smothered it to the point where it too is hanging by a thread.
But here is how life works.
He tells me this over the phone just as I am looking out my window toward my backyard. It’s covered with leaves. I hate raking leaves. This will sound terrible, but I usually wait until most of the leaves have fallen and the great autumn winds have swept across my property. That's right—I'm hoping that most of them blow away onto someone else's land. It's not all that bad. The guy across the street needs the exercise more than I do.
Well, here I am having this conversation with my friend about life and his failing marriage. He believes his wife isn't faithful to him. In fact, he knows it. Some guy named Allan she speaks about in her sleep. There have been others before him, too. But he loves her so much that through the years he has internalized his pain. That is, until now. Now he has lost his will, his energy.
Just when he tells me he is hanging by a thread, a sudden gust of wind passes by and the leaves on that tree begin to fall like snow. It really is a wonderful sight. As quickly as it started, the wind suddenly stops. There, hanging from a branch, is this leaf. Suspended in mid-air. From my vantage point, I think for sure it must be touching something. It isn’t.
I go downstairs, still listening to my friend rehashing his long list of why his life is so bad. I walk into the driveway, and now standing underneath the leaf, I am totally confused. It doesnt seem to be attached to anything. It is just there. Now obviously it must be caught in a spider’s web. But from where I stand, there isn’t even a glimmer of a web. As if stopped magically in mid-air, this leaf had halted its journey.
"Bill, there's a leaf hanging here in mid-air," I say.
"A leaf that was supposed to hit the ground has suddenly stopped and is just dangling there," I tell him.
"That's your answer. Think about that leaf. Somewhere up there on a higher branch, this leaf spent its entire life. In fact, you can say it's been there since birth. Growing up there was awesome. All through its life, it had the best of everything. It was surrounded by family and friends.
"It had been through a lot, too. The storms that shook its branches, the lightning that struck down a nearby tree, the small insects that ripped apart so many other leaves, were devastating. But it survived.
"Then one day it started to go through some changes. Changes that life brings. It began to feel old and withered. Its beautiful color started to turn and it began to lose its grip. Then one day it fell earthward. It had given up all hope of holding onto the lifeblood that kept it fed, strong, and healthy.
"But on the way to the fall, a simple invisible thread caught it. As if to say, Not yet, my friend. Not yet."
"Now there it is. I believe that leaf is having a second birth. Yes, in spite of the fact that it appears old and dried up. In spite of the fact the source of all of its joy and happiness just let it go without explanation. An invisible thread of hope captured it on the way down.
"Maybe that leaf is grateful. Maybe that leaf believes in second chances. Maybe it is thinking, "It isn't over yet. Look at all of the others laying down there. They gave up. I may not be way up where I started but the view from here isn't bad at all."
There is silence on the phone. He doesn’t say a word for a few minutes. Finally I ask, "Do you understand what this leaf is telling us?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Bill, this leaf is hanging on by a thread. For some reason it wasn't going to hit the ground today. Someday it will. It has no choice. But you do. That thread that you’re hanging by…where did it come from? What's it made of? Who put it there?" I ask.
"Faith. Will. God," he says quietly.
"So let's acknowledge that you have fallen a bit lower than you were before. What are you going to do about it?"
"Make a choice not to fall," he says hesitantly.
"Can you come over here for a while?" I ask.
About fifteen minutes later he arrives. I am waiting in my driveway with two rakes. We spend the next hour gathering all the leaves in bags. We hardly speak at all.
"There, my friend, that's what you need to do. Clean up your life," I say.
"But we're not finished. There's more," he replies.
"There will always be more. Life is just that way. Look, that leaf is still hanging there," I point out.
Bill observes the leaf with interest, then goes into my house for a few minutes and comes out with a piece of thread and a small stepladder. Standing on the top step, he reaches up and grabs the suspended leaf. I watch as he ties one end of the thread to the leaf and the other to the branch.
"There. Now it will be more secure. It's not where it used to be. But it's hanging by a thread and a little help from a friend," he says.
Then he gives a half-smile and offers his hand. "Thanks, my friend, for the thread."
"Hang in there!" I say.