Hinterland, Week Thirteen: Letting go
Here we are at the very end of 2017.
I’m not great at embracing change, and I’m especially bad at endings, so you can imagine how much I dislike transitioning from one year to the next. I usually cling to the last few days of a year as if they were the last drops of water at the bottom of a barrel in the middle of the desert. But along with 99% of the world’s population, I will not be sorry to see 2017 come to an end today. Bye, Felicia. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Because I don’t usually find myself in a position of welcoming the new year, I’m taking full advantage and seeing what else I can set adrift on the departing ship of 2017. Mary Oliver, who appears to be our appointed advice columnist this month, has wise thoughts about how this setting-adrift process should work. She says,
“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”
I think that’s probably good advice. But I also think I’m usually pretty terrible at the letting go part.
If the mantra “don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened” had sides, I would fall decidedly in Team Sobbing Relentlessly In A Corner Somewhere. See above: Bad At Endings. I’ll smile because it happened once I get over the crying phase, which will probably be in a year or twenty.
And while I’m all for a reasonable period of mourning endings—even an extended period for those of us who feel all of the feelings—I think that sometimes, I’ve held on for too long. I’m never quite ready to let go.
It feels a little bit like hanging onto your Christmas tree for too long. In December, it’s a veritable beacon of warmth and wonder and Christmas joy. As soon as we put the tree up I’m tempted to keep it up forever, or at least until Valentine’s Day. But at some inevitable point (usually long before Valentine’s Day), it’s clear that it’s probably time to move on. The longer the tree stays put, the more you know you’re hanging onto something that is over. Instead of feeling merry and exciting, it feels a little lifeless and baggage-y.
Once you’ve finally decided it’s time for the tree to go, you have two options.
- Option 1: Fill the space with something new
- Option 2: Stare sadly into the empty space, wish it was still Christmas, and Sob Relentlessly In A Corner Somewhere
I hate that I’m an Option 2 person, but I’m usually an Option 2 person. As a thinker and a feeler and very much a realist, sometimes I can walk into an unhappy place, drop my bags, and decide to live there for awhile. It’s a Field of Dreams style belief of, “If you feel it, then it’s real.”
And most of the time, it is real. But it’s not the only thing that’s real. There are also real joys in the present moment, real memories of good things that have happened, and real possibilities of what could happen when you don’t have a dead Christmas tree haunting your living room on the 4th of July.
This is a hard thing for sentimentally-inclined people to come to terms with, but there are plenty of things that are only meant for a season. And while it can feel like hanging onto them will help keep them alive, I think that sometimes it only emphasizes their absence.
So here’s an invitation for all of us: since 2017 won’t be a particularly hard year to part with for most, perhaps it’s a good time to load up the ship and let go of some other things, too. Big things. Small things. Medium things. Anything that you know, without thinking too hard about it, is your proverbial 4th of July Christmas tree. Let’s give them all a good send off. And then let’s let them go.
And once they’re gone, maybe we’ll skip Sobbing Relentlessly In A Corner Somewhere. Perhaps instead, we could take comfort in knowing that something good has happened, and something good is on the way.