Diving In and Letting Go
Years ago I spent at lot of time in Toronto working for a large retail client. During the project’s bone chilling winter, the project sponsor Anne and I became close. We spent many afternoons braving snowy sidewalks to explore café menus and deep conversations. Our retail planning chit-chat quickly evolved to theories on friendship and love. Perhaps it was from years of watching the seasons dramatically change, but Anne believed that human relationships had an inevitably short lifespan, just like autumn leaves on a maple tree.
“People come in and out of our lives for a reason. The best thing you can do,” she said, “is know when to let them go with grace.”
In a society that pushes commitment, Anne was a bit of a novelty. The whimsical blue-eyed Canadian saw relationships as sacred, yet temporary. She felt that there were so many beautiful humans out there, assuming that only one would take you through life’s twists and turns was not only limiting, it was impossible.
We spoke of friendships and romances as pieces of fruit. Once they are fully ripe there is nothing sweeter than its flesh. But after too long the ripeness ferments, and the once fragrant flesh putrefies and rots. “Much better to let things end on a sweet note,” she had said. “Sometimes you are only supposed to know someone for the length of a conversation. It’s ludicrous to think every connection should last.”
Before I had met Anne, I thought differently. I thought everyone that I was friends with in my early 20s would still be my friends in the nursing home. I also thought each romantic date should lead to marriage. There was a man I was so in love with I wrote an ode to his inner ear. When he felt it was time to move on two years later I wrapped my naked body around his legs to keep him from walking out the door. Splitting up was unfathomable to my young heart. Only later did I realize that my clinginess just prompted him to walk away that much faster. I didn’t understand that some love has an expiration date.
After my conversations with Anne I embarked upon a different manta and deeply connected to many human hearts within a short time frame. I was petrified of coming across as ‘needy’ and learned to love without expectation or attachment. I wore threads from an Indian Sufi around my left wrist to remind me to let people go gracefully and live an unattached, experimental life. My career as a consultant who traveled frequently only furthered the cause. It’s easy to let people go when you must physically catch a plane.
However, after traveling the world and exploiting the concept of “seasonal” relationships, I started to yearn for consistency. I had all these experiences and deep connections yet nothing lasting. I often wondered if I didn’t dream them all up; there was no one else to confirm their existence. Wanting to both have and eat my cake, I started to think up hybrid models to Anne’s theory. Perhaps our relationship house should be constructed out of lasting pillars, yet allowed periods of seasonal redecorating.
The pillars for a lifetime:
There are some people in our lives that are meant walk along with us to the bitter end. You know, the ones that know us so well they have the lines on our palms memorized. Knowing that my girlfriends will come visit me in the nursing home makes growing old much less lonely. While my passionate love affairs have given me an education in poetry style (from Alanis Morissette to ee cummings), I am starting to want to write about just one person….and learn from consistency as opposed to change. My parents, who just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary, claim that the threads they have woven together are far stronger than any ‘forgetting’ string I wrap around my wrist. However in order to build strong pillars we sometimes have to loosen our grip. If you let someone go and they come back, only then do you know they were truly yours.
The decorations to let go:
There is still a place for fruit. If you are open to meeting strangers, you will find powerful human connection can be had almost daily. Sometimes you will learn another side of politics in a boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Other times you may learn about new careers while waiting for the 1 Bus heading downtown. And there is that one dance club outing where you end up deliciously dancing with an unknown. It is impossible to have all these relationships develop into something sustainable. But if you understand their temporary nature, it’s that much easier to dive in with reckless abandon. We are more honest and vulnerable with strangers. These quick connections have the ability to inspire and change us. It was after all, a random man I met in Mexico that told me to go on my road trip. If the idea came a reliable source like my mother, I never would have gone. I never saw the man again but he has a line in the first chapter of my book.
After writing down my thoughts on relationships in my local Tully’s café, I ended up talking with a young woman about her life as an ESL teacher. She is completing certification class work to go and teach in Thailand. Over tea we talked about travel, love, and the need to live an unplanned life. Although I was mesmerized by her experiences and our conversation, I didn’t feel the need to pass her my business card or set up a future coffee date. Our relationship had spanned its course. She smiled at me as I gracefully walked out the door. I was running off to bake a birthday cake for a friend I’d know for 14 years.