Advice is often handed out like candy–“Just let go, and have a nice day.” Why some think it’s simple is beyond me. Letting go has never been that easy in my own life, for sure! One day I finally began to grasp what was wrong with this advice, or at least, what was missing. Here’s the story: (an excerpt from My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places.
Well-intentioned people offer varied strategies intended to short-circuit the difficult process of “letting go,” whether it be of worries, pain, hurt, relationships, the past in general, or even prolonged grieving. The list of life challenges is endless, and suggestions for how to cope are endless too, yet have been useless in my own experience. I have learned that letting go is something that happens on its own time schedule, not because of trying harder.
There was a time when I watched in amazement as my right side began the process of learning how to function again, after being deprived of movement as a side effect of life-saving brain surgery. At first, my fingers began wiggling just slightly, nothing that I could control, and not to hold anything of weight. After a few days I was offered plastic drinking straws to grasp. Waving them in the air, I greeted my visitors with the news: “Hey look, I’m lifting straws!” as though I was in a weight-lifting competition. I took any ability to move as a win.
After a few weeks, I was able to clasp my fingers into a fist with some relative strength. Unclasping was difficult and laborious. The holding on came first, the letting go much later. Each instance of healing felt euphoric, even as the big picture of how I could manage my life remained a great unknown. I took every positive development as it came, rejoicing when I could. I still had plenty to be concerned about.
Six weeks after my surgery, I was traveling around the halls of the rehabilitation hospital where I was staying in the early days of my recovery. I sailed along the hall in a wheelchair, using my left leg since my right leg was still paralyzed. I used my left hand to turn the wheel of the chair. A staff person at the hospital chastised me, insisting I should be using both hands to push, not favoring my weaker hand.
I did not bother to respond. Her words took me back to a time when I sat in front of my parents’ television set on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons with my siblings. A cartoon character grabbed a spinning wheel and suddenly his hand stretched like a rubber band as the wheel spun round and round. I pictured my hand, which only knew how to grasp strongly, taking hold of the spinning wheel rim as my wheelchair rolled along at a good clip. As in the cartoon, I watched in horror, in my imagination, as my arm stretched, rubber-like, all the way to the bottom of the wheel.
I knew better than to listen to the misguided scolding of someone who had no idea of my abilities. I shook my head in wonder at such foolishness and continued on my way. My reflexes were not yet capable of releasing my hand from the wheel in time to avoid injury.
This image of my arm turning to rubber and stretching out of shape provided me with a tangible picture, an understanding of why “letting go” might be so difficult for some of us. Perhaps, like me, there has not been enough time for holding on, for strengthening that part of us that must hold on tightly before we can move on to letting go. To insist that one “should” let go when our muscles, physical or emotional, are not ready can cause more harm than the holding on was doing.
When we find the strength, the letting go will happen. Not because of a conscious decision, or from being shamed into taking this step, or for any other reason than that we have held on enough, tightly enough, strongly enough, long enough. Only then will letting go be possible. Not only possible, it will be exactly the right step to take. It will be time.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.