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people Iíve forgotten, bad relationships, outdated notions of what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]