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Clearing Leaves: A Story of Hope

Clearing Leaves: A Story of Hope

Letter from the editor: When Brian asked if I wanted to publish a story he wrote, I asked what it was about. He sent me to read it and I knew the answer was a resounding yes. I am so proud to share Brian’s story, especially on Thanksgiving, to share his photography and more importantly to know him. May this story help anyone out there who has gone through the same adversity. You are not alone.

Every fall for the past ¼ century I have battled the leaves in my yard in a small suburban NJ town. Hundreds, thousands, millions, maybe closer to trillions? Leaf upon leaf one at time. They once provided shade and even brilliant color bursts before falling to the ground. Some even manage to look good on the ground. At first. Of course, if you don’t rake and bag ALL these leaves, they all end up turning to rotten wet composting leaves, right there on your lawn. So, every year I literally bag hundreds of bags and put them to the curb to be taken away. I have no idea where they go? But they leave? Haha. This process occurs over many different days during the fall, perhaps 4 or 5 times until all the leaves have fallen.

Each time I clear the leaves off the lawn I always admire how clean and clear the lawn looks. I know it will be short lived. I know more leaves will come. But I will clear those as well. In time. Finally, near the end of the fall the last of the leaves have fallen and I finally clear the lawn for one last time for the winter. More will come again next year. I will clear those as well. If I’m lucky. Sometimes I take before and after photos. Keep in mind clearing the entire property takes two days each time. Four times each fall. Some of my neighbors have landscapers that come and clear their leaves. I clear my own, I find it very therapeutic. Besides I love being outdoors and working. 

This fall, “clearing the leaves” took on an entirely new metaphoric meaning for me on a deeply personal level. I realized I have my own leaves on the lawn that is my soul and that from time to time I have to clear those as well. But I have never cleared those? I got 54 years of leaves to clear. Aren’t enough leaf bags in the world. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. First, I got help from close friends who try and teach me to breath and support from loved ones. Then I started writing. Writing down all kinds of things, the good, the bad, the ugly. Somehow as I wrote about some of my personal “leaves” it seemed to make them fade ever so lightly from my soul. I felt if I just keep writing and wrote it all down the leaves might finally be all cleared. I have spent hours, days, writing. And more writing. Then I realized, it took 54 years to get to this point, not going to clear everything overnight. Maybe just a little piece at time? Maybe just keep working through these leaves of my life. 

I have also come to discover that sharing my writing helps to make the leaves fade a lot more. Maybe I don’t need to share it all at once, maybe I should share it in small doses? 

I was abused as child. Abused by neglect. Emotionally abused. Physically abused. Sexually abused. All but the emotional abuse ended abruptly the night I lost three of my sixteen siblings in a tragic house fire. I survived. Wow. Just sharing those few lines ‘leaves’ me shaking. I have known these things for many years. I have been working with a mental health professional for over a ¼ century. Recently, within the last six months, my recovery began in earnest as I moved from acknowledging the abuse to accepting it. This would be the incredibly painful and somehow uplifting point where I went from seeing myself as someone else, from seeing “oh no, that poor kid being abused” to “oh I wait I am that kid.”

I have cried away most of this past summer. It seemed days on end. Cried about things that happened 30 – 40 years ago. Cried about things unrelated to my own abuse but for which I had never allowed myself to grief. The loss of my 3 siblings. The loss of friends and loved ones. Cried about the abuse as well. Lots. I survived. I am thankful for my family and my closest friends that have always been there for me, willing to listen and support. I am finding additional resources to aid in my recovery. This will take some time. Posting this small amount will help. It allows me to shed some of the layers of secrecy that burden me with undue weight. It helps me to release some of the shame and realize that I was just an innocent child. I survived. Thanks for taking a few minutes to read my post. I am certain I will share more of what I have been writing in the future. For today I have cleared enough of my lawn. I survived. Moving now – From Survivor to Thriver. 

Health

Brian Hester is a New York City based freelance photographer covering any nature of event including but not limited to; breaking news, sports, entertainment, fashion, nature and whatever may catch his wandering eye. Since 2011 Brian, has been covering community events and high school sports for North Jersey Media Group and their successor Gannett USA Today. His clients include Rutgers University and Monmouth Athletics. ​You can see more of his work at www.brianbehindthelens.com

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