One autumn day a colleague walked into my office for the customary exchange of morning greetings. I was sitting at my desk as we chatted, and she could look over my shoulder at the trees in front of the building.
"Abscission!" she suddenly remarked, staring past me.
At this word I didn't recognize, I swiveled in my chair in time to see leaves fall slowly through the windless air outside my window.
My colleague brought her background of a degree in biology into play. She helped me understand that point at which tree branches naturally prepare scar tissue and shed an organism like a leaf or flower.
Around All Saints' Day, I become a native of New Orleans again. I recall a cultural acknowledgment that used to make cemeteries throughout the city and the neighboring parishes of Louisiana gathering places for families. Every November 1, we learned to pay tribute to the inescapable shedding that populated these cities of the dead.
Something of the feel of those cemetery visits comes through in the final act of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. On a stage full of rockers, former residents of Grover's Corners in New Hampshire are shown as they wait out hours and days and months and years in the cemetery in which they are buried. Something patient and unhurried prevails among them.
I used to enjoy the holiday from school that enabled me to visit the family tombs along with my parents. They themselves didn't look like they could ever be old enough to die and be buried.
Watching my parents in their final years, I began to see how I will look and move one day. I began to see the kind of scar tissue by which members of my family prepare for a slow, unhurried shedding.
On this anniversary of my father's passing in 2001, I take in what I am ready to see about his life and about mine.