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Getting good at letting go
By Jennifer Vanasco


Buddhism says things change. If you clutch too tightly to what you have, you will be devastated when you lose it, as you someday will.

Atlanta, United States - Iíve never been good at letting go.

This is not surprising, I suppose, since I am descended from a family of packrats, people who hold on to things both physical and emotional.

My mother, for instance, is still bitter about her divorce 20 years ago. She holds onto her rage so tightly, it follows her like a shadow.

My grandmother, a child of the Great Depression, is forever hoarding small aluminum balls, bits of string and scraps of wrapping paper.

So it makes sense that I held on too tightly, too. I have long been the kind of girl who holds everything too long: big shouldered jackets from the í80s, birthday cards from people Iíve forgotten, bad relationships, outdated notions of what I want for my life.

Perhaps we hold on due to a feeling of scarcity, a fear that this girl might be the last who ever loves me, that this pile of books may be the raft that will carry me through miserable times ahead.

I always looked with awe on people who were able to join the Peace Corps and sell off everything they owned, or who gave away all their books so they could move to San Francisco in nothing but their car.

But last year was a turning point for me. An unfortunate relationship had ended, and I let myself become nearly destroyed by the loss. And suddenly, I found myself practicing the plan Elizabeth Bishop laid out in her poem "One Art": "Lose something every dayÖ Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster."

I let go of everything I had held so closely before: books, clothes, responsibility, old friends, ideas of who I was and what I knew. I took everything apart that I had spent 30 years building.

A friend introduced me to Buddhism, and I spent time learning to clear my ever-racing mind, along with my cluttered apartment. Buddhism says things change. If you clutch too tightly to what you have, you will be devastated when you lose it, as you someday will.

And then, finally, last fall, there was this night. I donít know what sparked it, exactly. I was driving home from a play I was reviewing and I found myself sobbing. I had to pull the car over.

When I got home, I pulled out a bottle of vodka and all the pills I had in my medicine cabinet. Tylenol with codeine from a long ago surgery. Tranquilizers. Sleeping pills. I spread them out on my coffee table and looked at them a while.

This would be, I thought, the ultimate letting go. I felt like I was in a dream. I could do this, I thought. It would be easy. I poured some vodka into a tall glass. I put all my pills in a line.

Then I called my brother. I asked for his advice.

He listened carefully to me and thought a moment. "I love you," he said. "If things are bad, you can live here for a while. I understand what youíre trying to do, but go to sleep and think about it. If it still seems like a good idea tomorrow, go ahead."

THINGS ALWAYS CHANGE, he said.

If theyíre bad today, theyíll be better tomorrow. Someday, they will be better.

Itís not that things were bad, I said. Itís just that this seems like the right thing to do.

Yeah, he said. But itís not.

Then he teased me for a while and made me laugh.

And the next morning I swept my pills up and gave them to a friend for safekeeping.

After that night, I felt a lot better. Iíve felt better since. Of all the things I can afford to lose, my life is not one of them.

Itís grounding, somehow, to finally understand the preciousness and importance of your own life. Things are just things. People will come and go. Our own lives are all we have. [SOUTHERN VOICE]



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