On Letting Go
This year has been hard.
I think that’s alright to say.
A year is a fairly arbitrary slice of time, sure, and it’s a whimsical quirk of human nature to try and make sense of our lives by characterizing arbitrary slices as good and bad. There is a degree of symbolic, performative magical thinking woven into how we cope with a world for which we were given no instructions. We think about how often we mourned collectively, and how certain tragedies affected the national mood. We think there such things as a national mood. We tend to be united by horror. Good moments are forgotten in favor of particularly traumatizing images of scandal and decay and threats and obliteration. We remember businessmen throwing themselves out of windows during times of recession; we don’t much remember lottery winners. This is the natural course of things. And we often deal with horror by making it smaller, more manageable, by joking that it can be limited to a stretch of time from January 1st through December 31st. This is not, as some have erroneously interpreted it, literal thinking. This is simply how we cope. We are imaginative creatures, after all, stumbling unguided through a world built on myths and illusions.
And so this year, this arbitrary slice of time, has been a bad one, even though each year has its share of good and bad and moments that simply begin and end. But it is fair to say that is has been bad. We can say that. It has felt bad.
Let’s make it personal: I thought, this year, that I would die. Many times, sure, because my God. But one time in particular
At this one point in 2016, I looked at an image on a monitor, my legs splayed on either side of a doctor I’d met just minutes before. She asked what I thought of Kanye and Kim and, gauging what her take might be while knowing she had the power to make me extremely uncomfortable, I told her I didn’t like him. (I do like him.) This was the answer she wanted, and I could tell by her hair. She did not have the hairstyle of a woman who really likes Kanye.
The doctor was still talking about Kanye when a big, dark blob on the screen caught her eye. I saw it too, and in that moment, I began to prepare to die. I saw that image on the screen, in 2016, and I thought “this dark and mysterious thing growing inside my body means that I will die very soon.” And I prepared myself for the day I would cease to exist. I cried alone, and I didn’t tell anyone how scared I was to die. I was focused on being prepared to let go, and that was all. There have been times when I have allowed that moment to be folded into the rest of 2016, another bead on a necklace that I can’t wait to regift to my closest enemy.
It turned out to be a false alarm, that dark mass, but I prepared for death before I knew this for sure. Sometimes this made me strong, sometimes like a dandelion fluff one breath away from being a memory.
The experience taught me a lot of about letting go, an arbitrary theme I’ve gone and assigned to this arbitrary slice of time. This year, I also quit a job that could have held a lot of potential for me, and I was laid off from the place I’d gone to afterward. You have, no doubt, also dealt with difficult choices and disappointments. You may know what it is to worry about money, about insurance, about plans for the future that are now words with lines drawn through them. You may know, too well, that worry can so easily turn to bitterness or terror when you cling to it too tightly. But every time you practice letting go, it all becomes a little easier.
Letting go is a process, and it can hurt. Sometimes we approach letting go by kicking and screaming, sometimes we thrash against the impending peace that comes with unclenching our jaws and letting our shoulders drop.
In any case: I made it through this year. This terrible, frightening, challenging year. I lost my job. I cut my bangs too short. I laughed. I drank. I embarrassed myself. I reached out and I held in. I hurt people. I was hurt. I thought I was going to die. But. I made it through.
And, importantly, so did you. You are reading this. You made it. Not whole, of course. Time has a way of wearing little parts of us down, polishing some sections smooth and leavings other rough to the touch. Especially during a bad year. And this year has been bad; it’s ok for us to say this, to mourn collectively and publicly, to make a show of our pessimism and our disappointments, to joke about them. There have been many years before this one that have also been bad. There has been death and confusion and panic and disease, for many years. All those little beads on all those little strings, all throughout time. There have been bad leaders and brave people who have fought against them. People we loved, even if they are strangers to us, faces on a screen, have died before. There have been wars, even before this year, and there have been lives ripped from bodies not yet ready to give them up. This is nothing new. But that is why we are scared this year, I think: We have seen all this before.
I wish I could tell you whatever it took to soothe you, to give you comfort and take your pain away. I wish I could hold you in my arms and tell you that everything is going to be alright. All the trouble in this world will fade, and we will all be fine. This is all just a false alarm, preparing us just in case.
But I cannot tell you that.
All I can tell you, and all that matters, is that you are here today. All I can let you know is that you being here today dictates what tomorrow will bring. You matter and your every movement creates ripples across the universe. Without you, all would not be as it is. Your every thought and shrug and sigh make a difference. You matter so much. And the future hinges on you. I know, we know, that we are all just one dark mass on a screen away from total annihilation. We are all just a step away from no longer being around. And yet. We are here. You are here. Vulnerable and flailing and stupid with hope. We persevere. We exist. We stay.
Because letting go has never meant giving up. Finding peace has never meant giving up the fight. When I prepared to die, I also prepared for procedures and scalpels and medications and tubes filled with things I likely can’t pronounce. I prepared for nights on an adjustable bed under fluorescent hospital lights. I thought about how I was going to share the news, the people I would need to tell and those who didn’t need to know. And I prepared to let go. I would really practice it, because my fate was ultimately not something I could control. But I would not give up on the things I could change. I would fight for my life, the way we all do at any given moment. But I would do so in peace, with peace, through peace. I would let the bitterness fall away, let the hard shell of terror peel away from me in long, ragged strips. I would allow myself to soften, to become pliant, to let life and its good and bad years flow through me without sticking.
So, it is alright to say it: this year has been so bad. So hard. In so many ways. And next year will bring more hardship and pain, that much we know for sure.
But, my God! It will also bring more of you. How lucky are we, to have you? Another year of you. Despite the pain. The questions. Despite all that may go wrong. We still have you. You, so precious and so rare. You, who will learn to let go of the suffering over the things you cannot change. You, who can let go of the pressure you place upon yourself. Close your eyes and imagine them as two orbs coming to rest within your head. Unclench your fists until you need to use them to punch the air as you fight, still, for the things you believe and cherish. Do not let go of your anger. Cultivate your anger so that it never recoils and causes you harm. Make it sharp and fine so that it whistles through the air, a tool you wield with precision. Use your anger, but let go of your fear. Let it fall away from you so that you walk a little lighter. You have enough things to carry, and fear is so heavy.
Let go of the little things that form a fog around you, clouding the view from behind your eyes. You can lose your job and still be you. It has never defined you. I know this because for too long I thought jobs and titles defined me. But I have lost those and I am still here. You can lose friends, lovers, family members, either all in a moment or slowly over time, and still be whole. You are you without your fear. You are still a series of regrets and wishes and reasons to fight. I don’t want to give you hope, because hope hurts too much. It hurts to see the light at the end of the tunnel you can’t find a way out of; it feels like a taunt, mean and unfair. Instead, I want to give you power. Let go of hope, of the thought that it will all be ok in the end. Know that sometimes, that often, it will not. And hold fast to your power.
Do not forget this as we talk about entering into a new year. This new slice of time is not a fresh start. It is one in a series of unceasing beginnings and ends that will mark the rest of your life. Cling to the knowledge that change is always possible, as you let go, little by little, of the idea that you are bound within a year, defined by all the things swirling around outside of you.
Next year will be hard. That is alright to say. It may be bad.
But you are good. Let go.