“How Loss Leaves Room”

Beech Trees in Spring

by James Crews

I want to be like the maples,
letting go so easily of their leaves
in the slightest autumn breeze,
surrendering every piece of themselves
they no longer need, and embracing bareness
like a new suit they can simply step into.
But I’m more like the beech trees,
which cling to the husks of their leaves
long into spring, refusing to give up
even a scrap of who they once were
until the last possible minute.
Perhaps they need the reassurance,
or maybe they’re here to lend music 
to the silence of winter, leaves 
beaten thin as tissue paper rustling
a lonely chorus in the snow-covered woods—
until buds push up to the surface,
and with no other choice, they say yes
to the final scatter and release,
seeing again, as if for the first time,
how loss leaves room for something new.

It’s difficult to admit to being the kind of person who has trouble letting go of things—parts of who I’ve been, ways of being that once worked for me—and I’d much rather be that enlightened human who, like a maple tree, releases it all, surrenders more easily, and without such resistance. Throughout the past few years, no doubt each of us has had some irrecoverable loss. That loss might have led to positive outcomes, or simply to grief, but either way, it’s important to mourn the losses and transitions that have come about for us, especially as we emerge from the pandemic into a world that is just as broken and beautiful as it was before. I can’t help but feel this poem was trying to teach me that perhaps it is just my nature to hold onto things longer than it seems I need to, and then to see once again the relief of release, the growth that can come on the heels of any loss.

Invitation for Writing & Reflection: Describe a time when you held onto something or someone longer than it seemed you needed to, in retrospect. Do you feel regret now, or can you simply embrace the holding on as part of your nature, like the beech trees, which surely have their reasons for clinging to their leaves long into spring?