Letting Go




Taking long drives is one of my passions. It doesn’t matter if I’m alone or with someone else. Either way, I feel renewed as the highway unspools behind me. Traveling lets me divide my life into small, manageable sections, like a timeline of events that’s always moving forward.

This weekend Husband and I returned from a teaching trip to Western Virginia, which is one of the places of my heart. I confess that it’s always a little painful to leave behind the Blue Ridge mountains for the flatlands of Illinois. But we talked and laughed and listened to a lot of music from our teenage days, were amazed to discover  (thanks to our very clever telephones) what the lyrics of some of our favorite songs meant. And we told each other stories. Lots of stories. I have, in the past, been careful of the stories I tell to people I don’t know very well–or, I should say, I’ve been tempted to rehearse the same stories over and over again so that they don’t change too much. (After 25 years, Husband has heard all my stories a hundred times, poor thing.) It’s not that I’m trying to keep the stories consistent because I’ve made them up, or that the retelling of them is cynical. They are always equal parts bravado and vague embarrassment. I’ve told those same stories over and over only because they confirmed the narrative I’d constructed around myself. For better or worse. Those stories announced: “This is the person I think I am. This is how I want you to see me.” But, really, the joke is always on me, imagining that the way I see myself, and the way others see me are even close to the same thing.

I think we were just outside of Lexington, Kentucky, where the land turns rolling and gentle, when I suddenly realized that I had let go of most of the stories I’d been telling myself, and others, about myself for a long time. Gone were the tales of my teenage hellion days, and my two early, failed marriages. Gone, too, were the private moments of shame and embarrassment that I had constantly rehearsed for myself, the thoughts that–on reflection–made me feel awful. It was a small moment in which I felt a vast freedom.

There’s a principle in writing that Husband told me about that applies to real life as well. It’s to look beyond what you think is the Big Revelation in your story. A Big Revelation is not the climax of the story, and certainly not the end. It’s the place to start. There’s a whole world of story beyond that revelatory moment–an as-yet, completely unexplored world. It makes me think of the ending of Richard Matheson’s novel (and film), The Incredible Shrinking Man. In it, the main character, Scott Carey, becomes so tiny that he must at last fight a spider to survive. He kills the thing, but begins to realize that he will become even smaller. Microscopic. He will disappear from our eyes. But there are submicroscopic particles that are even smaller than atoms–an ostensibly infinite smallness that’s the exact opposite of an endless universe.

I love that moment of revelation. It’s not the revelation that I expected in the story. Of course I thought that something would save him, or that when he could no longer be seen, he would just cease to exist. But that didn’t happen. His story was just beginning.

Here is the possibility that we let into our lives when we let go: life stretches out before us in infinite directions. Freedom.

The things that we imagine are the Big Revelations in our lives become anchors to which we tethers ourselves. How far we go depends on the length of those tethers. How sad. How much better to let go of them–to let go and move on.


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