A friend of mine broke her finger a few weeks ago. She was at the dog park and ready to leave when her lab decided to romp with the new batch of dogs arriving. He lunged playfully toward them and she instinctively pulled on the leash, forgetting for a moment they were in an enclosed space and it was safe to let go. That brief tug of war found the leash wrapped around her fourth finger, fracturing it. Had she released him, the worse thing is her dog would’ve played longer dragging its leash and she’d leave later than she wanted. Holding on, she endured a lot of pain and trouble, and now weeks later is still feeling the effects.
I similarly tussled with a lead, but it was a ski rope years ago when I was first learning. Friends in the boat taught me the circular arm motion to signal I wanted to turn around and go back, and the thumb up or down was to go faster or slower. I didn’t get up the first few times, but eventually I did. The one instruction I didn’t have but wish I’d been given (and which I now readily pass on) is to let go of the rope. Letting go wasn’t instinctive for me, like it is for most people, and after an impressive loop around the lake, I went down. Water rushed in and travelled so high up my nose my brain hurt. I held on for dear life, a soggy deflated dinghy being dragged against its will. I’m not sure if it was 30 seconds or just a few, but it felt like an eternity. You may be laughing right about now, but it was terrifying being dragged and not knowing how to stop it or if it would end at all. Somehow, I ended up releasing my grip and in that instant, everything changed: the noise melted away, I was perfectly still, and my friends returned.
As a child, growing up we went to church downtown most every Sunday. There was a lot to do to get ready: the hair braiding, dress pressing, patent leather shoe locating, rushing around for this and that – and that was just my part of the 5-person family routine. This all after a packed week of school and tennis practice and homework and getting up early every other Saturday to clean my grandmother’s apartment. At church I was all in: I sang in the choir, did the father daughter offering collection and became confirmed. I especially loved working in the soup kitchen, feeding all those hungry grateful people, and later myself nibbling on crunchy buttered toast leftover from breakfast. Each Sunday my family would arrive at church all pressed and pretty, but we kids grew tired of revving up for this mandatory rushed routine. Now with children of my own, I’ve watched as other families have settled into their church ritual, hunting down boys’ khakis to replace their preferred sweat pants and girls posing after church outside in sweet Easter dresses and cuffed lacey socks, now slouched and at different heights. I always felt a little guilty we weren’t regulars at church, but I’ve let go of that image as how our Sundays ought to be. We are happy with our once or twice a year visit. It’s joyful and hopeful, especially at Christmas and Easter, and it works for us. We don’t have to go every Sunday to benefit or to belong. We can let that go.
When my second child was born, I was determined to give birth naturally since I hadn’t with my first. I kept nervously watching the clock as my chances for an epidural diminished with each passing hour. I worked hard breathing through the pain, recovering and then gearing up for the next contraction, which was always near. Finally, the baby was coming and there was no more control, no more knowing what was ahead or even thinking about what to watch for. This was a free fall from an airplane without the promise of a parachute, I was in the first car on a roller coaster with a bottomless track, this was blind trust. I writhed, I shook, I screamed and then it was over. Actually, it was just beginning. The shaking stopped and I opened my eyes and held my sweet swaddled baby boy. I had let go, stopped watching the clock and let my body open up for my baby. And what do you know? It did exactly what it needed to do. And did it perfectly.
Recently I sold a drop leaf table that belonged to my parents. We used it in our own kitchen and it served us well for years. In time, though, the sentiment had become less sentimental since they had divorced and were now both deceased, and with so many dark wooden cabinets in our kitchen, the table’s dark color felt overwhelming and drab. When I finally did a light renovation of our kitchen, removing wallpaper and painting, I found another table that worked better in the room. Moving on from the rectangular and traditional honey maple table, the new one was round and painted white, and chairs tucked under it neatly. As I moved the old table into another room and brought in the new one, I realized I had held on to this furniture probably longer than I should have, longer than I enjoyed it for and it never felt like my own taste. That it was a family piece, that my parents loved it in some ways pressured me into believing I needed to use it as they had. After much debate, we agreed to let it go and a nice woman bought it for a fair price. I helped her move it to her car and as she drove away, the weight lifted. No worries of storing it or working it into our already crowded rooms. Someone else would now love it just like my parents had. And that was ok.
In the last few years I’ve seen several friendships change, relationships I was certain never would. I’ve spent time replaying conversations and emails and texts trying to understand their evolution and how I can be kinder, a better listener and less critical of others and myself. For years I’ve held tight to how things used to be, yet I’m realizing these friendships are evolving as things naturally do. The conversations are different, the emails are fewer or less predictable, and the frequent need to connect has been replaced with busier schedules, time apart and new friendships forged. Some relationships move in a different direction and it might be time to let go a little and see what unfolds.
It’s a happy coincidence that I chose to post this blog today, February 27th, my son’s 18th birthday. This will be a year of letting go for me, for all of us. As he heads off to college, there will be the inclination to hold on just a little longer, a little tighter. But as much as I love and will miss him, I love him enough to let him go. I will be watching him fly to new and interesting places and heights. Just like the butterflies we had years ago that grew from larvae. Seeing them evolve into colorful butterflies was spectacular, yet the day they left to explore the world on their own was bittersweet. Just as it was watching the baby birds fly from their nest tucked in our porch soffit. These birds I had watched each day, and I noticed when their egg first cracked open and a determined beak poked through.
Letting go is not just about our stuff or situations. It’s about doing away with views of how things should be, how they could look or trying to talk yourself into something you know down deep you don’t want or never did. It’s about uncurling your fists long enough to release your fingers and wrap them around what you decide is next. It’s about not always looking back so you don’t miss what’s ahead. It’s the best of both worlds, really. One door closes, another opens.