The Last Leaf

The last leaves on the weeping cherryI have been in Hobart for almost four months and will be leaving this great little city on the full moon of July 1st. Full moons are a great opportunity to bring something to completion and release what is no longer needed on the next stage of the journey through life. I’ve been working on l3tting go that for the past month at an inner level and synchronising with Mother Nature as strips away the unnecessary external displays of life from the summer season in preparation for growth to happen at a deep inner level in a season we know as winter. The beautiful and tranquil place where I am staying provides for deep contemplation. A magnificent view of Kingston beach and Brown’s river on one side and a tranquil garden and fountain from the kitchen window on the other, fosters a sense of peace and quiet reflection. Frequently in between writing and meditating, I have looked out at the weeping cheery tree by the fountain from which the prolific bird life loves to drink and splash around in. Slowly the tree which produced leaves of deep burnished red and gold from April onwards,started to slowly shed it leaves. As the numbers dwindled and only three remained, was suddenly reminded of a story by the American writer, O. Henry titled “The Last Leaf”.
During the last two months, I’ve been doing a fiction writing course with FutureLearn which allows you to complete the writing tasks at your own pace. The course has not only helped me polish my writing skills but also taught me to read like a writer and that in turn has helped me reflect on my personal history and influences as a reader. I went through many different reading styles and influences from late childhood through my teenage years. Amoung my earliest loves were the Dickensian stories, “David Copperfield” and “A Tale of Two Cities” and even today can quote from both works. I then moved onto Shakespeare and after winning a prize at school which was an omnibus of the poems of Boris Pasternak, entered a Russian period. Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Gogol to name a few! Fortunately, I outgrew the Russians and entered an American period were I discovered the reading pleasures of H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and my favourIte O. Henry.
I loved this author who wrote tales about the lives of ordinary people where extraordinary things occurred. Life can often be at its most remarkable when it is most ordinary can’t it?
“The Last Leaf” is one of his most poignant stories about friendship, the healing power of art and the power we have to determine our lives which we give away or so often ascribe to others.

A group of artists who live in a tenement building aspire, through their particular art form, to create a masterpiece. A young woman in the group falls ill with pneumonia and her friend takes on her care. She consults a physician who wisely grasps the underlying aspect of the illness which needs personal transformation in order that the patient survive; she has to want to live. Instead, she issues life an ultimatum “Unless this happens, I’m leaving the planet” Don’t we all at some stage of our lives tell life how it must conform to our wishes?
Forced to stay in bed, the woman fixes herself on the view from her window where leaves fall from a vine on the opposite building wall. She suddenly announces that when the last leaf falls, she will die.
The invalid’s caring friend shares her fears with the artist who lives downstairs, an drunkard who is considered an artistic dilettante, explaining that their friend needs a reason to live. After an extraordinary storm, which clears all the trees of their leaves, a last leaf is still on the vine. It remains there each day while the invalid, good to her word, starts to recover. Later the women learn that the artist downstairs has died. He is discovered in his room still wearing wet clothing and outside his room they find a ladder and palette with which he had used to paint a single leaf on the wall opposite. His masterpiece.
It seems to me that when we give our best self expression, we have no idea of its impact on the world. I can’t tell you how many times I have been powerfully affected by a sente bce, photo, poem or drawing and even though I can acknowledge some of I ts effect on me to the artist, I cannot fully grasp its impact on me.
The falling leaves on the weeping cherry in the garden have a different significance for me. They signify that the time is right to let go and prepare for the next stage of the journey. I will take with me new insights, friendships and learning. These things, which won’t take up much room in my suitcase, are enduring and invaluable.

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