I’ve been thinking a lot about letting go.
Our dog died last week. Liver failure. He was an old guy, and he lived a very full and loving life, but it was still devastating. I don’t know how many of you have had to do it, but letting go of a beloved family pet is right up there with the great underrated sorrows of all time. Harder, though, even than letting him go was explaining to my kids what was happening. It is certainly the first time we have had to deal with death around here, and boy did the questions come flying at me, addressing mortality, heaven, God, old people, horrible accidents, sickness, and the concept of grief. There were tears out of the blue — first my daughter’s and then mine. We all still walk in the front door expecting that old dog to be there waiting for us. It will take a while to get used to the quiet.
It’s sacrilege to say, and I wouldn’t have wished it this way for all of the water in the ocean, but I have to admit: the quiet is nice. My daughter has already started asking for another dog, but I tell her that we need some time to breathe. And to respect the dog we had. And to let him go. It does take time to let something go.
I am becoming more and more aware that as I get older, I accumulate things. Certainly I accumulate stuff — we all do. But I also accumulate responsibilities. Emotions. Friendships. Digital Photos. Birthdays to remember. Emails to respond to. Guilts. Projects. Dreams. And it’s really hard to let go of those things, even when they’re no longer fulfilling you. Instead of living our lives serially, moving from one experience to the next, we add the experiences together, and before long, we’ve just piled on too much. We hold onto old dreams, old ideas of who we’re supposed to be, old relationships that no longer feed us. We are suffocating from accumulation.
I have one great lost friendship. A dear friend from college and I had a horrible fight a few years after we graduated. We went without speaking to each other for a few more angry years, and then finally, after an emotional conciliatory email, we started to find our way back to each other. In the time we were absent from each other’s lives, I got married and she had a kid. We missed the chance to share those events with each other. Saddened, I vowed not to let that happen again, and I tried to stay present in her life, as she did in mine. But we had grown apart, and the damage was deep. I was making myself crazy trying to figure out how to fix the friendship, and then one day I made a conscious decision to let it go. Instead of dwelling on the sadness of the relationship ending, I choose to remember her contribution to one really great chapter in my life. She has a few fantastic photos in my scrapbook, and if I ran into her I would be filled with joy. But I have let her go.
The thing I know, the thing I’m sure you know, too, is that if I were spending all of my energy on that flawed relationship, I would not have had room for the new friendships I’ve made in the years since. If we do not let go of the things that fall away from us, we stop moving forward.
We can’t be everything. The bucket list I made when I was a teenager still has a gazillion things on it I haven’t begun. (Learn to play the cello? Become fluent in Italian? Swim the English Channel?) But for now, my days are as full as they can possibly be. The hours are rich with family and work and friends and responsibility, and in the midst of it I’m trying hard to let go of the internal barometer that tells me whether or not I’ve accomplished enough, whether or not I’ve been a good enough friend, whether or not I’ve been a good enough mom/wife/composer/businesswoman. Each day brings pressures enough. The ones that come from me? Yeah, I’m gonna try to let those go.
But, oh, how it does take time to let something go.