A Leaf on the Wind – What Does That Mean?


Wash: I’m a leaf on the wind.
Mal: What does that mean?
In a mildly humorous exchange during a tense moment in the movie, Serenity, Malcomb does not receive a response. Wash’s existential statement has been the source of much consideration for me.
Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen Serenity, stop reading now. Stop everything, and binge-watch the TV show, Firefly, and then watch Serenity. It will only take you a day. Okay, now you’re caught up. Come back and finish reading. Time to set the stage…
The Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity, piloted by Hoban “Wash” Washburne, is being overrun by reaver-infested ships. The reavers are bent on torturing, raping, and killing Serenity’s passengers, and not necessarily in that order. Serenity is getting hit, and Wash is struggling to retain control and escape the onslaught when he smiles and says, “I’m a leaf on the wind.” Captain Malcomb Reynolds rightfully asks, “What does that mean?” Perhaps only Firefly creator, Joss Whedon, knows.
The statement is at once descriptive and contradictory. When I picture a literal leaf on the wind, I see a big, red maple leaf, gently floating, side to side, as it eventually reaches the ground on a crisp October day. A little windier, and the leaf experiences more turbulence as it tumbles to the ground and continues on a horizontal path until hitting something solid enough to keep it anchored.
In Wash’s case, Serenity is wafting to and fro as he navigates the atmosphere of the world he’s attempting to land on, much like the turbulent leaf in my mind. But I think Wash’s statement is not meant to be literal. Unfortunately, Mal never has the opportunity to question Wash further on his meaning as the scene does not end well for Wash.
In a literal sense, a leaf on the wind is not in control. It’s at the mercy of the wind. A leaf does not steer itself in the direction it desires. Like Wash, we are all desperately trying to steer our lives on the paths we desire, are we not? Always trying to outrun pain, evil, sickness, misfortune… death. But these things always find us.
What can we learn from this? A leaf has no thought or care. Wash, with mindful intent, with all his skill, succeeded in bringing Serenity to a landing, rough as it was, and he did so with utter calm and a smile on his face. In the direst situation, Wash was telling himself, convincing himself, I believe, that he is merely a leaf on the wind, with no thought or care as to its destination.
As we face the difficulties life brings us, no matter how benign or dire, we have an opportunity to control how we face them. Are you the kind of person who tends to panic? Do you live in a state of constant stress? Denial maybe? Drama? You are not a leaf on the wind.
Are you a problem-solver? Do you relish the challenges life brings you? When things don’t go your way, do you pick yourself up by your bootstraps and go in a new direction? You, my friend, are a leaf on the wind. Go ahead, say it…. “I’m a leaf on the wind.” Now, go buy yourself a toy dinosaur. Every day, look at it, and say, “I’m a leaf on the wind.”

Click here to receive the Apocalypse Observer Newsletter in your inbox


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.