Falling Leaves To Count

By Charles Alexander

Parting Glances

I ate a hearty Thanksgiving dinner with friends - a gay senior, a working lesbian mom, a transgender newbie, a straight advocate for women's rights, an outspoken teacher for bullied students.

We traveled shortly after turkey time by way of our collective Memory Lanes to the legendary Well of Loneliness that, contrary to skeptic's nay say, televangelist baseless rumor, does exist.

The Well of Loneliness itself was first mentioned by author Radclyffe Hall as a place of pilgrimage for outcasts, marginals, those shunned by the busy, hurly burly of self-righteous know-it-alls.

It was a courageous thing for Radclyffe Hall to do decades ago. God knows the censuring by clergy, press, and snooty readers she endured for mentioning the Well's existence and her discovery visit. (My own private thanks to you Radclyffe for such courage. I suppose being British and just a trifle butch helped.)

If truth be known, this place of pilgrimage has been visited over the years by many, many more persons than those who care to admit their own private visit or visits of short, long, heart-rending duration.

For those dependent upon GPS, let us, as a reader service, say at the onset, there are no satellite-electronic guidelines. (A search for the appropriate sounding voice to say, "Take a thoughtful right turn for a quarter mile, a reflective left turn three-quarters afterward," hasn't been successful. What's more: there have been no volunteer voices, not for love or money.)

It was almost dark when we friends arrived at the Forest of Memory surrounding the Well of Loneliness. It gets dark so early these days (and for some, the autumn or winter of life). It was light-blue ink dark at six. We skipped dessert to make it before total black curtained all.

As might be expected, the trees of the Forest of Memory had mostly shed. The ground surrounding the fabled Well of Loneliness was covered. There were thousands upon thousands of vibrant, heart-shaped leaves, of many, many hues of red, orange, yellow, gold.

It was a singular moment of autumnal beauty; and none of our small band wanted to break the sense of awed reverence we shared by speaking. We simply looked to each other, nodded, joined hands. How long we stood in silence, none of us knew.

As we stood, heads bowed, around the Well of Loneliness on Thanksgiving Day, we shared a moment of intuition. Each began to gather leaves and drop them carefully into the Well. In the dwindling light we also saw that each leaf bore a name, many etched in multitudes of languages.

We gathered gold leaves for AIDS losses. We gathered orange leaves for gay and lesbian victims of hate crimes. We gathered red leaves for transgender persons murdered, raped, assaulted.

We gathered yellow leaves for women victimized by husbands, politicians, religious fanatics. Early leaves for helpless bullied kids.

And once it became too totally dark we left the Well of Loneliness, sadly aware that next year there would be more leaves to gather, more names to remember, more memories to replenish and fuel the Well of Loneliness. Leaves . . .

. . . countless as the shinning stars above.

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