Several things all crossed my path recently that have a common theme: letting go. For some people, moving on is simple. For others, it is difficult. And for some people, it is impossible. So, for Father’s Day I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on the topic.
What do I mean by “letting go”? Many things. Accepting change. Accepting some things have passed. Getting over the death of someone close. Ending a relationship. Leaving a stage of life. Embracing now-grey hair. Saying goodby to hair itself. Accepting getting winded going up the stairs. Giving up seeing your toes while standing. No longer getting through a day without a nap. Selling a family home. Replacing a favorite car. So many other things fit the theme.
By nature, some of us get so used to people and places and states of being that the disruption of change is painful. We also have emotional ties that can make it more difficult. It seems to be the human way for many of us, although a few of us seem to relish change, and there are times in our life when we long for it.
I remember when I was in my early 20s, I was eager to get out into the world, on my own, and start to “live my life.” I didn’t realize until many years later how much I’d miss the actual life I was living, surrounded by my family and close access to places where I had cherished memories. I have new memories, and new cherished family & friends that I did not dream of then, but I cannot help but miss those times. I had to let go — in my case, while driving from NY to Atlanta to begin grad school — but I have never really turned away. I miss those times and people and places, and on the (very) infrequent times I get back to that part of the country I am sometimes overwhelmed with memories triggered by the smallest things (mentioned in one of my earlier posts here). Later, as I left Atlanta to move to Indiana and start at Purdue, I had some of the same “letting go” pains from my time in grad school. And undoubtedly, if I leave Indiana and Purdue for something else, it will be traumatic — maybe more so, as I have lived here longer than any other place — yet it will require letting go to move to something else.
We all handle letting go in different ways, and a lot of that depends on what it is we think we are relinquishing.
I was reminded of this on news of an acquaintance’s much-beloved wife dying, and his hostile reaction to some expressions of solace from others. He didn’t want memories — he was not ready to let go. She is gone, but he has so many memories and such a different life because she was there; she is not really gone in every sense, but he doesn’t yet understand how to let go of the part of her that is no longer there.
I was reminded of this with discussion with a good friend, who is having difficulty coping with his daughter’s pending departure, first to travel, and then to college. He is having trouble letting go of his not-so-little girl. I was reminded how that same situation moved me to tears a year ago….although a chronic illness has brought her home indefinitely, and I will have to suffer that departure yet again. There is a sense of loss at the routine, at the things that I wish we had done together or could do again. Yet, there is a certain pride about her independence and dreams, and a realization that — at some point — she will need to be on her own. But dammit, does it need to be so soon?
I was reminded at Memorial Day of how many people had to let go of someone before their time should have been done. Yet, how different our lives (and the lives of millions of others) been had they not stepped up to the unknown.
Last week, I ran across a gift from a past girlfriend, and I was reminded of the good times we had 40 years ago. She and I are still friends, and I wish there wasn’t such a distance between us because she still makes me smile.
I realized when I stumbled across a picture that my high school graduation was 40 years ago this month.
I was reminded of a former dear friend who, a few years ago around this time seemed to have lost her mind and become a different person. I had the hardest time letting go until I discovered she had been lying to me about a great many things — the person I thought I knew may never have existed. It was difficult to let go of that imaginary person.
I was reminded of several friends who have drifted away in time, and a few special ones who died too soon — LinkedIn and Facebook recently prompted me to remember their birthdays, and a whole set of memories came flooding back. I miss some of the laughter and solace and insights. Some of them are only a phone call away, but we have had to let go because of time and space, and making that call too often would mean having to let go all over again.
I was reminded of this as something caused me (yet again) to think of my own mortality, and the question of whether I will do all I hope to do before then? Some things already slipped from my grasp. Am I ready to let go of some of those dreams?
Letting go is necessary for each of us, to provide “room” for new experiences, and to help us grow as people. There is a saying (Zen, I believe) that anything we cannot bear to lose, owns us; the goal of life is to be free of all owners. Perhaps none of us really requires anything beyond ourselves, but the reminder of the richness that people and routine bring to us makes it difficult for some of us to let go. People who are eager for each new thing can’t quite understand that, it seems.
I know that one of my own faults is that I don’t move on easily enough, at least in my personal life. I get too comfortable with things around me that may not be as good as they could be, but I don’t want to expend the energy to change to something less certain. When I was dating, I was seldom good about break-ups — I couldn’t accept they were over, and (in retrospect) that probably made them worse. I am not good at dealing with the inevitable, either — the cancers that took my grandmother and mother, for instance, or my daughter’s chronic health issues. I react with continual searching for some “fix” and hold out hope for a miracle (not in the religious sense). Again, in retrospect, I probably hold on too long. I know I am not alone in this.
I wonder if there is something genetic in this? When I was blogging about some genealogical research on the Spafford family line, I noted “… family motto has been rendered as Fidelis ad extremum or ‘Faithful to the extreme.’ Another version has been “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” which is rather the same thing. I gather that my forebears were not particularly good of letting go, even of lost causes.
In one sense, a failure to give up is a failure to surrender to adversity. It is a testament to hope. The people who refuse to let go of hope, of life, of success, of love — they may not always succeed, but sometimes they do simply because they persist when others would have surrendered. There is survival benefit for some of us who don’t let go so easily — there is some chance we may yet succeed. The key is understanding when to continue, and when to let go. As one aphorism goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But then, give up so you don’t look like a damn fool about it.”
Today is Father’s Day. I remember my father, sometimes clearly and sometimes not. I lived under the same roof with him for 21 years, and another 30 years in relatively close touch. He worked so hard to make a good home for us, and to provide whatever he could for my sister and me to succeed. Yet, I seem to have only a few memories I can summon up at will — there are many buried, but I need something to jar them loose. I haven’t let go — time has taken a toll. I realize it will be this way with my daughter, who apparently hasn’t yet realized it is Father’s Day today, and I am a little saddened that I may not be much of a memory to her. Yet, I think about how much of who I am was shaped by my father in all those years, and I know that my influence will be there as long as she lives, and maybe even passed down to any children she may have. Given the nature of life and time, I really can’t expect much else.
Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and to the children who have been shaped by them. Don’t let go of the memories or the opportunity to yet shape them. If your father is within reach, give him a hug. Or heck, if any father is in reach — to let go, sometimes you need to embrace, first!