There’s a trick to the “graceful exit…” It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over-and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.
Admittedly, letting go has never been a thing I am good at. In fact, it is sort of the resounding story of my life that I hold on tightly until I injure myself. It’s like holding onto a rope and the desire of whatever is on the other end is stronger than you are. The rope is cutting into your hands, but you keep holding on. You feel the pain, but you can’t see the extent of the damage until the other side pulls so hard that you have no choice but to let go. Then, you are left staring at your hands, maybe crying, and subsequently having to clean and heal the wounds without whatever was on the other end. This metaphor applies to so many things in my life. I sometimes wonder if I will ever learn.
I had this life altering moment seven years ago. It did not seem life altering at the time, but since then year after year it makes more sense. I was on vacation with a girlfriend. It was just the two of us and after years of mothering two young children, one with special needs, half on my own, it was a very liberating trip. I felt a freedom I had not felt since my teenage years. One morning we were seated at brunch with this older couple. I say older, I was thirty at the time and they were probably late forties, early fifties. We made small talk. We did not get into life stories. I think we disclosed our marital status (all of us being married), children (all of us having children), etc. We did not delve into anything very personal, and there was no way it could have been construed as a heavy conversation, with all of our outlooks being the lighthearted that only comes from having no responsibilities for a time. We parted after having a lovely time.
The next day I was out and about on my own and I ran into this couple. The wife approached me, and the husband hung back a little. She seemed serious and maybe a little nervous, but I could tell she was grounded in his presence. It was very sweet actually. She gave me a hug and then she said something to the effect of the following: “I have something I want to tell you, but I don’t want you to think I’m crazy.”
I shook my head, giving her a look that I hope conveyed, “no you go right ahead.” However, there was a little unease associated with these people being virtual strangers.
She continued, “I was up half of the night last night because God put on my heart that I needed to pray for you.” She looked at me, making sure it was okay to go on. I’m not sure what she saw on my face, but inside I was somewhat incredulous. I mean, I had met her once for less than an hour. She said, “I just got the impression you need to hear that you need to let it go.”
I was somewhat dumbfounded. Now, looking back, I should have made a joke of what was obviously not really one, and asked, “Did he tell you what exactly?” Instead my eyes welled up with tears a little, at someone being so caring towards me. I hugged her, thanked her, and I have never seen her again.
That meeting set the stage for the coming years of my life where I would let go of just about everything that passed through my mind as possibilities that day. There were three things that stood out. I’ve let go of all but one. When I tell you those things were traumatic to release, I could not be more serious. I felt like a walking wound for a very long time. Everything hurt me. Things that were not designed to intentionally hurt me did. I was like the metaphor. I had no idea what holding on tightly was doing to me, but when I let go, it became painfully obvious.
The first one was my marriage. I would say that it was a marriage that I had outgrown, but that is an oversimplification. The fact of the matter is that when we got married I was nineteen. I had no clue who I was or what would be my needs in a relationship. I am thirty-seven and I am just now figuring it out, slowly. But suffice it to say the ways in which we were incompatible impacted me greatly. They impacted my self esteem and self worth. They made me stop trying and become complacent. They made me bad at a thing I felt so confidently good at in the beginning, relationships.
After that cruise I left my husband. The cruise was in November, I left him right after the new year in 2013. I got my own place, I furnished it, and then I went back to him. I was scared. Scared I was making the wrong decision and scared of how people would see me, and just scared. Honestly though, I was not afraid of losing him. For me, sadly it was never about love. In retrospect, after surviving actually leaving and being divorced, I can say that as hard as I thought it was going to be then, it was even harder. We separated one more time before it actually stuck. Again, I was scared. And I let things weaken my resolve. However, I don’t regret any of that because I know I tried again and again. I know the ultimate decision was the right one. It was right for him and it was definitely right for me. However, to get to the place where I now know that fact took about eight hundred and twelve baths, seven thousand bottles of wine, losing some friends and probably alienating others, twenty million text messages with my completely amazing friends, and too many tears to count. I did things that hurt myself and set the healing process back, but I wouldn’t change those either. They have all taught me and some have been practices in letting go.
The second thing was the person I thought was the love of my life. I could write a book on the details of our decades long relationship, but I have turned the page on all of that. I have successfully let it go. I know the timing of this is questionable, but the truth of the matter is that it was an affair of the heart. He was not at all the cause of my marriage ending and he was not the cause of my marriage being a bad fit. I saw him a couple of times over the years and we spoke intermittently. We never did anything physical while I was married, but as soon as my divorce was final it was a door I either had to walk through or close. The truth is that I romanticized a person who could never have been what I needed. It was a traumatic end, but it was an end.
And now I’m finally at a place where I have let go. The wounds on my hands are now scarred over. The skin there is tougher than it was before. I will try not to use that as a means of holding on to things longer than I should. I hope when my kids are ready to fly the coop I am able to let them go gracefully. I hope I have learned. At least, I hope I have learned to let go of the things that take more than they give me. But I will say, the art of letting go is a continuous process, but God knew what I needed to hear that day. And he’s whispered it to my heart many days since.
Stronger Than Yesterday,