A lesson from autumn leaves

A Christian Science perspective: What had started out as cleaning up leaves as “Dad’s little helper” suddenly turned sour.

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The mellow music of Nat King Cole’s velvet voice singing “Autumn Leaves” drifted softly across the front porch where I was sitting in my rocking chair, enjoying the view of the sun setting behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The familiar words turned my thought back many years to a time when the autumn leaves were cascading down and covering the lawn where, as a 6-year-old, I had decided to help my dad by raking those beautiful leaves.

What had started out as a “Dad’s little helper” task was suddenly to turn sour. After I had a huge pile of dry leaves stacked high in the gutter and reaching out into the street, my last task was to get rid of them. I didn’t want to let my dad know what I had planned; I wanted to surprise him with a “Well, Dad, I took care of the leaves!” I could almost hear the inevitable praises.

I slipped into the house and got a box of matches and was on my way. It took a few tries, as I had never lit a match before. When I finally got a match lit, I threw it into the leaves.  

The fire grew faster than I’d thought it would, and soon the flames started rising, producing thick clouds of dirty white smoke. In panic mode, I started raking vigorously, covering up the flames, raking faster and faster. “Surely if I get enough leaves on the fire it will be hidden. Gotta cover it up quick before Dad sees this!” But the flames only grew higher, leaping up into the sky, smoke covering the neighborhood.

Then, above the sound of my racing heart, I heard a shout behind me. Dad was standing on the porch aghast at the sight. He rushed out with the hose, and together we fought the fire. As I recall, he wasn’t smiling his usual happy smile.

After the fire was out, we had what Dad called “a little instructional talk.” What he lacked in tact, he made up for in straightforwardness. The most important thing I took away from the lesson was, “If you find yourself in a hole ... stop digging.”

In what became “The Lesson of the Leaves” to me, I learned at a young age the consequences of a coverup and the necessity for honesty and openness.

Today we so often see the disastrous results of attempts to cover up mistakes, errors and omissions, dishonesty, and the temptation to hide situations that would bring dishonor, embarrassment, even jail time, by individuals, businesses, and governments.

I recently saw a signboard in front of a local church that said, “Prepare your tax returns as though someone was looking over your shoulder.” I wanted to jump out of the car and change that sign to read: “Always do everything in the most honest and truthful manner, and you won’t need anyone looking over your shoulder. A clean conscience is a wonderful feeling.”

Religious pioneer Mary Baker Eddy counsels in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help. You uncover sin, not in order to injure, but in order to bless the corporeal man; and a right motive has its reward” (p. 453). The book of Proverbs puts it this way: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (28:13).

By opening the window shades and letting in the sunlight of truth, we can put out the fire of guilt and enjoy a life of peace, honesty, purity, and guiltless living.

Adapted from the author’s blog.

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