Because Saratoga’s Congress Park is prettier than a postcard, on the first Saturday of each month, 7-year-old Tristan would grasp his mother’s hand with his right, a picnic basket with his left, and the two would set out on an adventure.
It was fall and the large maple trees were showing off with brightly colored leaves of red, orange and all the colors in between. As ducks quacked and swam in the pond nearby, Tristan’s eyes scanned the park, determined to surprise his mother with the perfect fall leaf.
As Tristan would soon learn, that task was near impossible. Unlike snowflakes, which always looked perfect floating through the sky, fall leaves, pretty as they are, were less so. Tristan would kick up a pile, focus his gaze, point and say, “You’re perfect!”
Then he’d raise it up and examine every inch like Indiana Jones choosing the Holy Grail, only to spot a tiny tear or flaw and release it back to the pile with a hearty sigh.
His mother watched him for a while before asking Tristan what was wrong. When he revealed the secret mission to his mom, she gently tapped the seat on the bench beside her, and Tristan put his search for perfection on hold.
“Nothing is perfect, sweetheart; you know that, right?” she began.
Tristan begged to differ: “Not true! You’re perfect, Mommy.”
Her smile quickly turned into a tear, and Mary wrapped her arms around her son, holding him tighter than any mother ever hugged a boy. She then explained that we all fall from God’s good grace now and then, but there were two lessons Tristan should take to heart.
“First, when we do make a mistake, it is seldom too late to correct it or at least apologize for it,” she began.
Tristan bit his bottom lip, something he did unconsciously when he was thinking hard, then raised his warm brown eyes and replied, “And the second thing?”
“Second,” his mother continued, “and most important: When someone wrongs us, hard as it may be, we should try to be forgiving.”
Tristan thought on that second part a good long while before answering, “So, let ‘em off the hook?”
His mother smiled broadly and said, “Yes, when we can, sweetheart.”
A pair of ducks approached, hoping there might be some Pringles chips left in the tall red can, and Tristan crunched several chips up before tossing them in the dewy grass.
“They look like a couple,” he commented to his adoring mother. “Yes, they do,” she said. “Do you think they look for imperfection in each other, the way you did with the leaves?”
Tristan studied the birds as they nibbled the broken chips and said, “No. I think they just love each other.”
“Me too,” Mary replied, rising from the bench to collect the red checkered blanket waiting under the tree.
As she stored it away with the remnants of lunch in the large wicker basket, Tristan leaned back on the bench, put his face toward the sky and closed his eyes, enjoying the autumn breeze.
For reasons even he could not explain, something told Tristan to open his eyes, just as a bright orange leaf released from the highest branch of the tree and slowly drifted down, resting gently in his lap. Tristan raised it up, studied it a moment and realized, unlike the hundred others he had looked at today, this leaf was indeed perfect. Not a single flaw.
His mother noticed his gaze lingering on the leaf in his hand, then asked, “Did you find it? Your perfect fall leaf?”
Tristan, remembering his mother’s words from barely a moment before, rose from the bench and placed the leaf down with the rest that were now scattered around their feet.
“They’re all perfect, in their own way,” Tristan answered, before taking his mother’s hand, squeezing tight and leading her home.