Thursday, July 2, 2009

Letting Go

The heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
-- Stanly Kunitz, "The Testing Tree"

I found this quote on the frontispiece to the Marvelous Adventures of Edward Tulane, a book I bought for my kids last year. Like many of the best children's books it is a good read for adults, too. I won't spoil it by telling the story, but I recommend reading it. The author, Kate DiCamilo, also wrote the Tale of Despereaux.

It is a story of growing through loss, not only growing but becoming at home with the idea of loss. Elizabeth Bishop was not merely ironic when she wrote that "the art of losing isn't hard to master." It is our natural inclination to fight against loss, clinging desperately to what we have and know.

Often, it isn't the loss itself that overpowers us but the fear that comes with it, the fear that nothing else will ever be so good as what we have right now or what we planned to have, or the fear that somehow I as a human being am lacking and will experience nothing but continual losses. In learning to be my own best friend, I realized that I can let go and be all right. Sure, I still struggle against it, and sometimes life needs to take a circumstance or a person from my path because I am not that good at letting go (yet; I am getting better).

I can weather even grief so sharp that there are moments when all I can think is "Breathe in. Breathe out." My picture of the future is gone and I am not sure yet how to make the new picture. Somehow, I had developed an aberrative coping mechanism, that if I was hard enough on myself either things would get better faster or wouldn't hurt so much. So, I got very, very good at being hard on myself. "No wonder things have gone this way... if I wasn't so stupid... it will never get better." I am not sure how the belief developed -it may be too easy to say that it was in my upbringing. I notice, for example, that my son who has Asperger's has an inborn perfectionism which frequently makes him painfully hard on himself. It matters less how it developed than what can done about it now.

In the relationship I have with myself now, derogatory thoughts make no sense. The good news is that I don't even have to stop myself from "going there." New thought patterns aren't yet in place (that's why I just manage to remind myself to breathe), but the destructive ones are just gone. Without the savage self-injury the real hurt is bearable. Not fun but bearable, and clean. I can feel it and keep breathing, and even have genuine joy in the day.

Incidentally, I found that Kunitz is a poet I like. You never know what you can learn from children's books.

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