Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11, 2011 ~ Day 123
Letting Go

There are people who will slip in and out of your life without notice or explanation, and others who will stay by your side forever. Often it is difficult to know who will fall into which group; really, only time will tell.

I have a friend who has never missed calling me on a single birthday - some years she has been the only call other than my family (especially with the advent of Facebook where your wall can be chock full of birthday greetings and wishes but the telephone doesn't ring often). This has always meant a lot to me.

Another friend lives far away but checks in once every few months, just to see how I am doing and hear about our kids. She has never met my daughter but asks all about her anyway, in addition to the boys. She actively works to stay informed about our busy life with kids, and lets us know that she cares about what we are going through.

Then there are people who I thought would be in my life forever - an old boyfriend who swore lifelong allegiance but went on to break my heart, a former college roommate, several high school buddies and even a very close mutual friend of my husband and mine - who have all managed to jump entirely off radar. We've had friends who moved to other cities and slowly drifted away... and still others who have simply disappeared.

What I have learned from this over the years is that you have to appreciate your connection with a person in the moment, without expectations that it will last forever. You also can't take it too personally if someone, for their own reasons, doesn't really feel compelled to come your way any more.

"Easy come, easy go," may sound a little trite but I mean it in a deeper vein. Friendship or love comes easily into our lives but often we have a hard time letting it go. When I say "Easy go" I really mean let it all go, with ease.

I have never been one to let go with ease, holding on tightly to the people who mean the most to me. Loss is actually one of the things that I've struggled with most - this concept of relinquishing personal attachment or desire.

I looked into Buddhism at one point during our spiritual search and was really uncomfortable with the language of detachment - although with further inquiry I believe that the Buddhist concept of detachment is a bit different than the American version. Still, I couldn't quite commit myself to a faith that placed such importance upon how to accept the natural ebb and flow of relationships without clinging. "I love people too HARD to be a Buddhist," I confided to my husband.

My mother has a saying that I have always liked, and I believe in now more than ever. She says, "If something (or someone) is meant to be with you, it will be - despite all obstacles. If it is not meant to be with you, it won't be - no matter what you do to try and keep it."

I guess I like the fatalism of her view because over the years it has made me feel less of a failure when people or things have vanished. A long term live-in boyfriend left for a road trip with friends, didn't call me for five weeks! and then ended up married to a woman he connected with on that trip... a tough wall for me to climb at the time. In the end I was able to look back at the situation peacefully and realize that he simply was meant to be with her and not me.

I thought of my mom's saying a million times during my difficult third pregnancy - meditating on the feeling that if the baby was meant to be with us and to live, she would. If she wasn't meant for us, I couldn't hold on too tightly to the outcome. I just had to keep on praying and believing that whatever WAS meant to happen would evolve according to its own course and in its own time, in a way that would bless both she and I. Two years later she is a total ball of energy, health and radiance. Despite her amazingly traumatic birth she has thrived to become a strong, transformative presence in our lives. Undoubtedly, she was meant to BE.

Even when my father died, it was really tough to let go. I didn't want him to die, would have done anything to keep his heart beating for just a few more days so that I could introduce him to his granddaughter. So that I could hug him even one more time! Yet I was not able to restrain death, even with my most ardent prayers. I had to let Dad go, there really was no choice in the matter.

I've discovered the hard way that when you don't let go gracefully, the intensity of your own attachment comes back to bite you. This has happened to me literally hundreds of times, in so many different ways. I was once offered a team teaching position with a colleague that I really loved and respected, but it involved me needing to change all of my curriculum and switch grade levels. I was heavily pregnant at the time, exhausted, and extremely attached to the lesson plans and workshops I had developed around the 7th grade. I didn't WANT to let go of my curriculum. I felt like the request was unfair. (Looking back, it all seems so silly!) In any event, I rejected the offer and asked to stay in my own grade level with any available teaching colleague.

Ironically (or by design?) my new teaching partner could not have been a more challenging match. And not in a good way. I ended up taking over most of the team responsibilities for the year with a tremendous amount of added frustration and pressure, while sadly watching the colleague I had originally been offered to team with flourish in her excellence as a teacher, her hard work and her dedication. Her new team partner could not have been more pleased. I could not have been more jealous.

How many times during that long year did I kick myself for holding onto a grade level position that was obviously meant to fall away? How many times did I sigh over the short-sighted decision to place curriculum before partnership?

This is just one example to stand for all of the many, many times when life gently nudged or encouraged me to let go of something that needed to fall away... a particular apartment, a job, a friendship, a love affair... and I didn't listen to the call until it was loud enough to soundly box my ears.

In retrospect, I've realized how important is to acquiesce gently.

To be fair though - I am not exempt from pulling sudden disappearing acts or making others let go of me!

Sadly and much to my regret, there are a handful of friendships over 30 years that I can freely admit to pulling away from unexpectedly or without explanation.

I had a lot to learn about communication as a younger woman and I now look back with special regret upon unrelated conflicts with a best friend AND my own sister that each left me slinking toward the hills without uttering a word. Years passed before I grew up enough to realize how much damage my long-term silence had caused. My actions, which at the time I felt to be self-preservative, turned out to be supremely selfish.

I am very lucky that as of today both of those women have generously forgiven me for my general lameness and allowed me to re-enter their lives as a friend and sister. It isn't easy to make up for those lapses though, nor should it be.

I mean by sharing my own failings to say that *anyone* (including me) is capable of leaving anyone else... and that we have all managed to be both the "leaver" and the "left behind" at some point in our lives.

This blog post though, is about letting go. Learning how to accept what is sometimes unacceptable, preferably with grace and a good sense of humor.

Last night my husband and I were talking about a friend who has breezed in and out of my life for decades, never seeming to care much about whether I noticed the lengthy absences. "When do you think you'll hear from your friend again?" he asked.

"Oh who knows," I laughed. "Could be six days, could be six years! I've stopped worrying about that kind of thing. I just enjoy the visits when they happen and then completely let go until the next time we get together."

Smiling, he came over and gave me a big hug. "Well, I'm not going anywhere. I'll still be here tomorrow and the day after that, forever."

"That," I smiled, "is a beautiful thing. Thank you."

I cherish my husband's fidelity and love. I appreciate him so much. That said, I know that some day a time may come ~ thanks to accident or illness ~ when life asks me to let go of him too. The mere thought of this weighs like an anchor on my heart. Every time I think these thoughts, I know they're giving me an opportunity to remember my good fortune in meeting him at all. Can't live in fear of loss - simply need to celebrate and cherish the moments we do share right now.

For our children who will read this post one day - I sign off the way I began:

There are people who will slip in and out of your life without notice or explanation, and others who will stay by your side forever. Often it is difficult to know who will fall into which group; really, only time will tell.

Your challenge will be to love fully ~ and to let go with grace.

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