Monday, September 24, 2012

Letting Go

"The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on."
Havelock Ellis

A note from ME: I am participating in a tele-retreat by Alana Sheeren. One of the exercises for last week was to "pick a book that inspires you, open it to any page, read a passage your eyes fall on until it feels complete. Spend some time journaling about what resonated with you."  

In general, unless I'm feeling contrary, I'm a rule follower of the highest order. I don't veer too far from the instructions. This time, however, I didn't have a book close by, so I relied on the computer.  Everywhere I went, the subject seemed to be about "broken-ness."  I shared some of my thoughts about feeling broken and the parts not quite fitting together the same way with the group.

Today another topic I'm familiar with came at me from the universe.  Letting go.  I feel like I've been letting go of something all my life. I consider letting go and saying goodbye kissing cousins. My earliest goodbye was when I was 3 or 4 years old and my family left Philadelphia for San Juan. Packed up everything we owned, hopped on a Navy transit ship that smelled of diesel fuel (to this day I can't smell that smell and not think of puking over the side of the ship), donned life jackets and had drills to practice swift exit. Pretty scary for a little girl. Feels like I've been saying farewell, Ta-Ta, Adieu, Adios, or Bon Voyage to someone or something ever since.  Maybe that explains why I hang on to things much longer than I need to. Why I hate change, and why I grieve loss of any kind from deep in my bones.

I've entertained several times over the past couple years of writing a book called, what else, Letting Go. It might be cathartic for me, but I doubt it would garner much of an audience.  Instead, I'm going to use my blog as a way of journaling about the subject.  Maybe I'll get hit by a lightening bolt Aha moment, or just some gentle insight to what makes me wrap my hands around things and hold on tight. It's not NaBloPoMonth so I won't hold myself to a strict write every day routine, but I do want to examine the subject. I'd love to have you join me but understand that my journaling may not be your cup of tea. If I begin to bore myself I'll give up this idea.


One of my biggest problems with letting go is what to do in the space between what was and what will be - that briefest of moments that can feel like an eternity. Like the sequined lady on the flying trapeze after she lets go of one bar, she is suspended in the void before being caught in the arms of man clad only in tights. Not only does she have to let loose of her swing, she has to give up control of the situation and depend on someone else to catch her. While performing a twisty, 8.0 degree of difficulty somersault in mid air, she has to trust that he will be there when he is supposed to be and his hands aren't too sweaty.

AHA: Letting go means giving up control. Giving up control means trusting someone/something else will be there and know what to do.

 When I was about seven, I liked to watch Circus Boy on TV.  I envisioned myself as the sequined lady. I rode into the tent on an elephant behind the clowns. And when it was time, I climbed the tallest ladder in town and stepped on to the trapeze platform. When I finished the death-defying act that made the audience gasp in unison,  I'd drop down into the net then flip myself into a standing position to thunderous applause. I used to practice my roll out of the net technique from the top of a bunk bed.  The tall and narrow beds that had been re-purposed from am enlisted men's barracks. (My daddy was the Public Works Officer.) There was a bar under the top bunk that might have held a curtain for the guy below, or held neatly pressed dungarees. Dressed in a black ballet leotard and leather dance slippers held on by a piece elastic, I would hold onto the the bar and flip myself to the floor over and over again. My final, hands in the air, TaDa rivaled Gabby Thompson leaping off the balance beam. The fearless younger me was ready if the circus ever came to town.  Today, however, I still like sequins, but  I'm more of a stay on the ground kind of girl. I shy away from ladders. I don't particularly like heights. I think flying defies too many laws of gravity to take a chance, and I hate living out of a suitcase.  I've moved around in my lifetime enough to want to stay put for awhile.

Sometimes it's the staying put where I lose my footing. Stuck in houses that are too big for one, or relationships that lack the glue they need to hold them together, it's hard for me to move on. Even when I know, in my deepest knowing place, that the time for goodbyes is long past, I still drag my feet. The irony is my past farewell experiences also tell me everything will turn out okay.

I wonder why that is. Why, when I want to go and know after the pain of leave-taking has mellowed I'll be okay, the release paralyzes me? The obvious answer is fear.  Fear of the unknown. Fear of the sadness. Fear of being alone. Fear of standing on my own two feet. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear that the decision I made is the wrong one. I'm reminded of the 12-step slogan, fear is nothing more than false expectations appearing real. When did I stop being Circus Girl and become Chicken Little?

A few years ago, using her luscious, wavy, red hair as metaphor, I wrote a story about how it felt for me as a mom, when my recently widowed daughter dropped me off at the airport to fly back across the country, thousands of miles away from her. I was going home to what I knew. She was driving off, her hair fluttering in the breeze, to an empty house and a totally new life.

"No crying, Mom," she told me as I stepped from the car and put my suitcase on the sidewalk to free my arms for one more hug. The kind of hug that a mother gives a grown child when she wishes for the hundredth time the clock would stop.

 When Wendy was young we had many arguments over how her hair would be styled. I wanted pigtails, she hated the tight rubber bands.  I wanted her to look like Dorothy Hamill with a do that would keep its shape without much fuss or bother. She'd have none of it.  After  a few yes-I-will, no-you-won't struggles I realized that the time had come for me to let her make the decision how to care for her hair. It was, after all, her hair.

That day at the airport, I buried my nose in her hair and longed for the smell of Johnson's shampoo. As we said our final goodbyes, my heart ached for my daughter. It ached for me. It ached for the whole situation.  It ached because there was nothing I could do to change things or make it easier.  She had to let go of the old and embrace the new. I had to let go of my vision of a bald-headed baby wrapped up like a burrito whose very life depended on me.  But, I'd done all I could do. Handing over an imaginary hair brush, it was time to let my baby girl become the woman she was meant to be.

When we fast forward a few years, that same woman has taught her mother a thing or two about letting go. She lived in the in-between until something new appeared. She put one foot in front of the other and did what she had to do to get through her day. Was it easy? Hell no. Was it scary? Of course. But she did it. Today she has short cropped hair and a new husband. From the pieces of one life she refashioned a new one. A perfect example of what letting go looks like.

With our mother/daughter roles reversed, Wendy is the one to say everything will be okay. "Live in the moment," she tells me.  I'm learning that living in the moment means embracing that in-between place. You've never seen one Flying Wallenda pull another one from the swinging trapese. No, the sequined lady has to open her hands, let loose of the bar and fly.

AHA: Letting go, is all about opening up.

Wishing for you an open heart,
Merry ME


Anonymous said...

Blogging all of your thoughts is a great and safe outlet.

Letting go of control is challenging.

i wonder if its possible to write a list of what you feel comfortable controlling, and see if you could let go of one of the things on that list at a time?

Because trying to let go of all of it at once just sounds too scary, and that probably results in real resistance to living in the moment.

You're a brave soul, Merry, and you keep on searching and striving to better yourself and be happy. You're admirable.

You always try. Always.
And you succeed bit by bit, and that's a wonderful thing to look back on as well, to see how far you have come, when you forget and just see what is in front of you.

((hugs again))

Molly said...

My goodness. I am reading Brene Brown's the Gifts of Imperfection...similar ground to cover. I have decided we keep needing the lessons because the terrain we cover changes.

You go girl!

Anonymous said...

Wow, pretty powerful thoughts...and images of you flying off the top bunk.ld

AkasaWolfSong said...

Mary, My Beloved Sister...
Do we ever think of the unknown, that place in between one breath and the next, as pure wonder? How majestic and utterly amazing it is to be in that place? I think if we looked at it in that light, that holy light, perhaps we can move forward without the fear. We can try Sister and I'm walking right beside you...
I love you Sweet Mary,