As I write this my heart is lead. I am heavy with the weight of attachment. I wrapped my life around an idea, threw myself headlong into something destined to end tragically. I knew it would, and I fought to keep myself detached, to self-protect. But finally I said yes because I believe you should say yes to whatever the universe hands you. I said yes because it had to be that way. And as soon as I did, it all unraveled.
My hands are fists fighting to hold on to what is already gone. Or maybe it was never really mine. But my fists won’t let go. I have trouble letting go.
There are two expensive storage facilities filled with the cherished belongings from my mother’s house, and my grandmother’s house—one in New Jersey, one in Buffalo, NY. The moment these things were stored away, I never visited them again. I have no room for any of it in my small apartment, yet I can’t let go. I have trouble letting go.
I’ve always surrounded myself with things, mementos. The stuff in my life was akin to family. But safer. Things couldn’t hurt me. The stuff brought me comfort, joy, a sense of self. The stuff was a cocoon that kept me warm and protected. Attachment to things was easier. Attachment to people always brought me pain.
And even though I thought I had evolved, it seems in this way, I have not. My hands are still fists, just as they were when I was born—hanging on, banging hard against cold reality. I don’t accept this. This cannot be the way it is now.
But it is this way now. And I am starting over, alone. But I don’t want to start over with this heavy burden I have been carrying. Not this time, not anymore. My fists are weary from holding on.
But I have trouble letting go.
For Buddhists, attachment is one of the main negative emotions that creates suffering. When we attach to an object, to someone, we seek to possess. We see the object or person as permanent when often it is the opposite. Attachment is a compulsion, a desire to be loved, praised—to create constancy where there is only change, or willfulness. It’s the need to control what we cannot control. We hang qualities and importance on something that can only leave us wanting. And so we suffer.
I suffered more when my mother was dying than I did after she died. Desperate to save her, I fought her dying with everything I had. She was the center of my world, and without her, I didn’t know who I was. If she died, I would lose everything; I would lose myself. So I hung on to her with my angry fists, and banged hard against the inevitable with all I had.
But her death was hers. It was her time, her choice to stay or go. My attachment to my mother made her death about me. And that selfish need made me suffer and spin when I should have been telling her it was okay to let go. I could have been releasing her to her chosen destiny.
But I couldn’t see past my own pain and so could not ease hers. And in the end, for all my fighting with my indignant fists, I could not stop her from leaving me. Instead, I made our last hours together desperate and frantic. What did I accomplish but more suffering?
When you say yes to the universe, it doesn’t guarantee good things will happen to you. Saying yes only guarantees you will keep moving forward toward your destiny. Sometimes you have to say yes to someone leaving you, even if it rips you apart. You have to say yes to change, even if it feels like death. And it is a kind death—death to the past, to something that has held you back. When you are moving forward, creating a bigger life, the only thing that is constant is the unknown. But you have to keep saying yes, and let go of attachment.
The only person who can bring you joy is you. You can’t find happiness with someone who is unhappy. There is no safety, no constancy, in a state of change. But when you let go, really let go—of expectations, need, fear, want—you can begin to write a new story for yourself, one where you are truly free to let your life take the shape it was meant to, unhindered by your own limitations.
I know all this is true. And I know that God has a plan for me even if, for the moment, I am at a loss to understand why I have to go through this gauntlet. For now, I am still working on my own limitations. Even as I have opened my angry fists, the deep imprint of my nails in my palms remains. A reminder that letting go is not without pain—but holding on is more painful, still.
Read more about my journey to find purpose in Paris after the loss of my mother, and the healing I found in Burgundy, in my memoir My (Part-Time) Paris Life, on sale here:
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