I was in the 4th grade when I was first introduced to Leo Buscaglia. I met him through his book, “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf,” a sweet little story about a leaf’s journey through the cycle of life, from spring to winter (birth to death).
I was pretty close to Mrs. D., the counselor at my elementary school (many of the students were…she was a special lady). When a relative passed away that school year, I was called into her office to talk about how I was feeling.
I remember after we finished talking, Mrs. D. pulled “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” from the shelf in her office and said I could borrow it to read at home. It had colorful photographs of trees and leaves all throughout as it described Freddie and his navigation through the myriad thoughts and emotions that come with growing up, finding your purpose, and growing older.
As summer turned to fall, Freddie saw himself and all his leaf friends around him changing colors. Eventually, Freddie watched as his friends let go and fall to the ground, one by one. He inevitably began to wonder what would happen when he too finally fell from the sturdy, safe branch he had known his whole existence.
And he wondered what it would feel like to make that fall.
The book ends by providing a description of Freddie’s experience with his own "death." It details it as a gentle fall and one with which Freddie can find peace even without knowing that his body will be providing nutrients for the tree as it prepares for the next spring. It’s an appropriate read for all ages, especially for children when they begin to have questions about death or what it’s like to die (and it’s normal for children to be curious).
I have no idea why, but for some reason I never got Mrs. D. her book back. And perhaps more surprisingly, she never asked for it back.
Elementary school ended, and I moved on to junior high, high school, and then eventually graduated. I kept “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” through all those years, looking back through it every now and then. It was such a simple, comforting read and over time had become one of my favorite books.
One day we got the sad news that our beloved counselor had died in a car accident. I had not seen Mrs. D. in some years but mourned the sweet memories I had of her. I remembered that I still had her book, and felt pretty bad that I’d never returned it to her.
But then, picking up the book and reading it again in light of her death made me realize that she would have been glad that I still had it now…it was still providing me comfort even in adulthood.
Freddie’s creator was Leo Buscaglia, also known as “Dr. Love.” He was a professor and motivational speaker who was, for lack of a better comparison, a kind of Mr. Rogers in his own right. Besides “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf,” he is the author of several other books, including “Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships,” “Living, Loving, and Learning” and “Bus 9 to Paradise.”
Mr. Buscaglia passed away in 1998, but he lives on in this little gem of a story…and so does Mrs. D.