It seems like the last few months have been all about the sometimes painful process of letting go.
A few years ago I reconnected with an old friend from my college days. I have a tendency to drift away from people, so I was happy to have someone in my life who "knew me when." That "when," of course, was pre-marriage, pre-children, and pre-teaching. A time that now, in the foggy days of middle-age, sometimes feels like the time when I was truly me. (Whatever that means.) It felt good to have someone to talk to about a me that no one currently in my life knows anything about. It was like my friend was the key that unlocked the door to a part of my life when everything still lay before me and the world was full of hope and promise. Talking to my friend allowed me a chance to escape from the painful parts of reality and the opportunity to laugh, something I fear I do too little of these days. And then one day my friend slipped away. I had suspected the day would come when that would happen, and I even know, in part at least, the reason for it. What hurt was the walking away without a word. To me, that silence said our friendship never really mattered. I thought about reaching out to my friend and tried for a long time to figure out what to say, but everything seemed childish or passive-aggressive, and that was not who I wanted to be. The only reasonable choice, I realized, was to simply let it go.
My second lesson in letting go came courtesy of my elder son. As a sixth grader, he was going to attend science camp for a week. I was excited for him. I could still remember (surprisingly, given how many years it's been!) my own experience as a 6th grader at science camp. I later returned to camp three more times as a 6th grade teacher. I had come to view it as a wonderful opportunity for kids not only to learn about science in an outdoor setting but also to experience a little independence, an important step in the process of growing up. As I prepared my son for his trip, I made a startling discovery. Having my son live away from me, even for just a few nights, was an important step in my own process of letting my son go. It is strange to think that over the next few years he will live more and more of his life beyond my grasp until that moment comes when he leaves home for good. I know what that will mean for him; I've been there myself. But what will that mean for me? How will I be a mother without children to take care of? Who will I be then?
The upcoming holidays have provided me with perhaps the most difficult lesson in letting go. For my entire life, I have always known exactly what I would be doing on Thanksgiving. My family gathered every year at my mom and dad's house at 2:00 p.m. My mom would have gotten up at the crack of dawn to begin preparing, so even if you arrived early, the house would smell of turkey and pumpkin pie. There would be a certain energy in the house, the result no doubt of my mom bustling around, stressing out about the most minute of details, wanting everything to be perfect. She needn't have worried. Even if the turkey had been a little dry and the gravy a little lumpy, everything would have still been perfect. We were all together, talking and laughing and marveling at how much the children had grown. Often we had not seen each other for months, but that only made those hours together more precious. Writing about it now, I can actually feel the sensation of standing in my mom's kitchen, sun streaming through the window onto the neatly set table covered in fall-colored linens and laden with food, surrounded by the sounds of voices and laughter. Family. Home. That's what the holiday was all about.
But things change. As I have grown older, so too have my parents, and the holidays of the past are no more. My mother's arthritis prevents her from bustling around the kitchen, and my dad's emphysema makes hard work of even talking. So I am lost. I have reached the point when the traditions of the past can no longer continue. It is my job now to create new ones. But everything I consider seems completely lacking in comparison. Dinner for four will just be too quiet and lonely to truly be considered a holiday.
We all know that life brings changes and we inevitably have to someday say goodbye to those we love. I get that. But knowing something intellectually and experiencing it emotionally are two entirely different ball games.
Rather than lessons, I suppose these experiences have been reminders. Reminders that things change, and once they do, you can never go back. Reminders to embrace all that is good and beautiful in your life so that when it is gone you can move forward with no regrets. And reminders, too, that while letting go is sometimes sad and difficult, it allows us to reach out to the future and whatever it may hold in store for us.
At least that's what I hope.