“Red Leaves” by Lisa Nanette Allender

As the falling leaves remind us all what time of year it is (my favorite time of year, by the way, is autumn) I’m often prone to bouts of almost inexplicable sadness. The Buddhists have a saying about leaves falling and the loss of a child: that they are the same, that all loss is simply loss, which implies that everything is somehow “equal.” That, coupled with the Buddhist notion that desire leads to pain, are just two reasons why I will probably be unable to call myself “Buddhist”, though I certainly can adopt many other precepts which make sense to me: respecting all of the natural world, maintaining a connection through nature, even the absence of G-d.

While I’d never use the word a-theist (absolutely denies or refutes the existence of G-d) to describe the very spiritual practice of Buddhism, it does appear to be non-theist (not attached to a particular theory of G-d), or, at least, non-dogmatic. In these times of falling leaves, with the yellow and orange and red – like the children’s blood being transfused daily in places like Egleston Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and St. Jude’s Hospital in Tennessee – I am acutely aware because of the holidays and fundraisers for the aforementioned, and very, very valuable medical centers. I also am reminded of this saying of the Buddhists, almost daily, such as when I was in the checkout line at Barnes & Noble, North Point, to grab a book or two before heading off to see amazing, suspenseful, going-to-get-an-Oscar-nod-for sure Argo, and the sales associate asked me if we’d like to “donate a new book to a terminally ill child this holiday.”

I gulped, suddenly feeling quite greedy for purchasing not only a gift for friend, but for snatching up the paperback of Unsaid, a novel about a redemptive dog, just for me, just because I wanted it. I glanced at my husband Hansoo, who appeared as shaken as I was, both of us imagining children on the brink of death, with tubes in their noses, reading a few words between labored breaths.

I quickly asked the questioner, “Could we get one for a boy? I mean, everyone gives girls books. Do you have one that both could enjoy, or something specifically for a boy?”

“How about this ninja book?” she asked, holding aloft a bright-colored manga book.

“Perfect,” I replied. “Look, Hansoo, it’s Asian-centric.” She popped my purchases into a bag and gently laid the book-for-unknown-terminally-ill-boy in a nearby donation stack. As we hurried to leave, I asked, “Is it possible to donate gently-used books, or, um…?” I knew the answer, as soon as the words flew carelessly out of my mouth.

“Well, they’re in terminally ill/critical care.”

I interrupted her with “Oh, of course, the germs.”

“Yes, the kids sneeze on a book, you know, it could expose them to –”

“Of course.” We walked away, heads down, to the great film we were about to see, the film in which lives are saved and there is hope at the end. Exiting the AMC Theatre, I noticed a maple tree shuddering in the strong winds of that Sunday afternoon. She’d lost several bright red leaves, and, I’m guessing, if trees can weep, she wept.

Peace, kids.

An earlier version of this piece was featured at Lisa’s official blog, Lisa Nanette Allender Writes, in 2012.