Learning to see the beautiful changes that come from the pain of lost love | Lessons from Autumn Leaves

               SongNotes from the Birds is a collection of songs and articles, issued each month via blog posts and good old-fashioned mailboxes. Below is article 1 of 3 for October’s theme “Loose Leaves.” Click here for the full intro to this month’s theme!

“You see, I haven’t forgotten…”

What better way to convince someone that you are over them than to spend line after line of an entire song comparing their memories to that of les feuilles mortes (literally, “dead leaves”)? Garbage, rubbish, paper to be raked up and tossed aside, blown off to make room for winter’s chill.


Like Minneapolis, Paris is home to beautiful fall colors, and in the original French lyrics of the song you know as “Autumn Leaves,” the line You see, I haven’t forgotten, is woven through the wistful memories of lost love and the implication of throwing them aside.


It feels shameful at times, as a now happily married woman, to ever give a thought to significant others in my past. All of that should have become obsolete, shouldn’t it have? I expected the years to fade the memories, but the thoughts still surfaced. And when they did, I shooed them away, just as I shooed them away over and over and over again back then, efforting to never join the lot of girls who adored that other man.

That’s how I am. If ‘everyone’s doing it’ then I’m not. I’d rather be different than compete to be the best.

I told myself, “I must be the good girl. I must not let on. I must play it cool. I must follow all the rules. This is ridiculous anyway. He’s way out of my league. Gentleman that he is, he’s made it clear that he doesn’t play the subtle game; if he likes a girl, he’d make it clear.”

Helpful, right? Especially when he sent me a necklace, handmade, from the other side of the world – just a nice gift. I’ll wait for it to be clear.

The music and jewelry and emails and birthday gifts and letters were sweet, but vague. Not yet clear.

And, there was the fact that he signed all his letters, “Your bro.” Nice, right? I would not be that immature emotional girly girl chasing a guy who clearly thought of her as a little sister.

Naivety was my greatest fear. I’d never dated before. I didn’t know how. I didn’t think it was right, actually. My theology at the time prohibited it. I was terrified of doing relationships all wrong, so I didn’t do them at all. Introvert I was, but there was more to it. Despite my façade of wisdom, I was oh so green.

photo of roadway surrounded by trees
Photo by KIM DAE JEUNG on Pexels.com

Autumn carries with it a sense of longing. We long for warmth and don additional layers of flannels and sweaters and scarves to achieve it. We long for time to pause in those perfect moments as we teeter in between the heat of summer and the vortex of winter. And deeply we long for the multiplication that happens when these moments are shared with a special someone else. Leaf peeping, apple picking, spiced latte drinking, and walking in filtered sun on crunchy paths aren’t as magical when experienced alone.

couple walking at pathway between trees
Photo by Heinz Klier on Pexels.com

It was on one of these autumn days that he made it clear.

As the leaves fell around campus and I walked along the paths in the courtyard on that first weekend in October, with the phone to my ear, he shared the happy news about his girlfriend. It all became clear and my face burned red. Before ending the call, I’m sure I’d said things like, “Oh, wow…good for you…that’s great.”

I felt so stupid and ashamed. I wanted it all to be different. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be invisible.

shallow focus photo of person holding red maple leaf
Photo by thevibrantmachine on Pexels.com

The cold of the air and the darkening of the hours in autumn does something transformative to certain leaves. The veins get constricted. The little molecular chemists inside the leaves aren’t getting what they need to do their job of feeding the tree. They change shape and become something different.

Rather than reflecting the vibrant screams of green, these cells become transparent. In this change, they get out of the way, and something hidden is revealed. It actually was there all along: gold, yellow, orange, gentle reds.

alley autumn autumn colours autumn leaves
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As the season evolves, sun warming in day, temps chilling at night, more changes occur. New chemicals are created as soil conditions, tree genetics, and sugar levels combine to show off even more: deep maroons and purple.

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The cold is the catalyst for the rainbow of beauty.

When I think of who I was those years ago, I wish that I had been more able to dance the paths of friendship and relationships in a way that was void of fear and self-judgment and the ever-clouding assessment of rules by which, at the time, I was convinced I had to live. I wish I could go back and be less rigid, less restricted, less stuck.   Not because it would have changed the guy in my wedding photos, but because it would have changed the girl.


That girl might blame herself for wasting time and hurting friends and being weird and starting marriage off with some major baggage. It’s easy to assume that, when changing for the better, sooner is better. Yet, it is the long summer of green that ripens us to thrill as the fall colors reveal themselves.

I could groan with pangs of regret and bitterness, or I can practice having grace for that former version of myself. I could deny myself any thoughts of any of this, or I can remember that pain as a way to see the contrast of who I was compared to who I have become.

God’s faithfulness is in even the affliction. Remembering the journey, observing the rings of growth, seeing the beauty slowly revealed over time – these are not the longings of regret or ungratefulness. As I acknowledge and let go of the twinges of bitterness, the pigment that has colored those memories changes. They are signs of life, of a soul within me designed to love and be loved and continually pursue the harmony of connection with humans and with our Maker.

Don’t forget who you were because of wishing you had been different. Remember the green. Feel the cold. And let yourself see the beauty that has been there, waiting to be revealed.

“Oh, I wish you’d remember..”

read full original lyrics of ”Les feuilles mortes”

Listen to Nathan and Naomi’s recording of “Autumn Leaves”

Song: “Autumn Leaves” 1945
Authors and Dates: music by Joseph Kosma (1905-1969), French poem by Jacques Prevert (1900-1977), English by Johnny Mercer (1909-1976)

SOURCES and links for the curious…

About the song

About the composer Joseph Kosma

About the French lyricist Jacques Prévert

About the American lyricist Johnny Mercer

An English translation of the original French lyrics

Why leaves really fall off of trees

More about leaves in autumn

About autumn leaf coloration

About plant senescense (seasonal color changes)

About the green pigment chlorophyll

About the yellow and orange pigment – Carotenoid

About the deep red and blue pigment -Anthocyanin

Nathan and Naomi’s recording of “Autumn Leaves”