Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let it go

It's the last day of final exams, and students are trickling in to say their "farewells" and their "see ya next years." Some are saying yet more long-lasting goodbyes, graduation soon to take them far away.

An hour or so ago three of our more outgoing Honors students came by to bid adieu to Queshia and me. They sat in the Honors office and we talked for about twenty minutes. Much of our conversation centered on the idea of letting go...or not: end-of-semester goodbyes, helicopter parenting, and relationships that have run their course.

"Kids these days," I began, noting that I'd once sworn up and down that I'd never say those words, "don't have the freedom we had when I was young. As long as my parents knew roughly where I was, we were free to roam about the town, with little worry what we'd get into." Now, of course, parents hover overhead. They call the program on their kids' behalves, inquiring about requirements and expectations and perks. They ask after every detail of their kids' academic lives. They have to learn to let go.

We all have to learn to do this, and it's not an easy thing to do.

As I wrote in a recent post, my life lately has been filled with loved ones lost. One of my closest friends lost her mother, suddenly, and not two weeks later another friend, just as suddenly, lost her father. In the skinny interstice between these deaths two other, yet younger, friends of friends passed away, and in the time since my friend's father's death I've heard several talk of losing parents, friends, and pets. It's gotten overwhelming, and, as I hinted in that same post above, I can't say that I've handled it well.

Why not? One reason, I think, is that I've been lucky enough to not have lost many people truly close to me. I've made it through 38 years without losing a particularly close friend or family member. I seem to be blessed with a particularly healthy set of childhood friends, and my friends from college are no less hearty and robust. And my mom and dad both up and moved far, far away from their respective families when they were young, so I grew up hell and gone from my extended families. This meant that I hardly knew any of the grandparents and other more distant relatives I've lost, having only seen them for a few days at a time once every other year or so, and then only when I was very young. We simply weren't close.

I don't mean to sound unfeeling or callous or cold: this is just the way it is. I've never had to deal directly with death; I'm as yet unfamiliar with its effects on me. What's more, I still don't feel as though I'm dealing with it directly, even now, but really only through others, and thus I'm not so much dealing with death as I am dealing with the effects that death has on my relationships with those dealing with death directly. Therefore my experience is a mediated one and, because it centers on others' relationships with me, it's an experience I thought at first was necessarily selfish.

But does it have to be selfish? On reflection, I think not.

When tragedy strikes our friends, we can choose to remove ourselves and feel their pain only through the effects it has on the relationships we share with those friends. We see the tragedy strike, but we don't feel it immediately. We shelter ourselves. We may offer our support, but that support is academic, it's detached and distant.

I fear that this is the kind of support I've been offering to my friends in their recent mourning. I've baked a few dozen cookies and a couple loaves of bread, I've offered the expected words of solace and succor, and I've offered a hand with transportation and child care, if needed. But I've not really been present for the pain. I've spent more time focusing on the way in which the various tragedies affect me, as mediated through my friends' pain in turn.

I need to learn to let go.

I need to learn to let go of my own pain, to feel it, but also to let it pass so that in its place I can place a picture of the pain my friends may be going through as they deal with their loss.

Further, I need to learn to let go of  my self, if only for a little while, to see beyond my self and my immediate relationships with my friends, to see instead to my friends' relationships with the loved ones they've lost.

Finally, I need to learn to let go of those very relationships, or at least my static conceptions of those relationships, and to accept that tragedy brings great waves of change and that once those waves have passed the relationships they've left behind might look very different than they did just days before.

To anyone to whom I've not been able to offer the succor or support you've needed from me, I apologize. I've not before dealt with death so directly, and I'm only now learning my own authentic reactions to it. I'm a work in progress, and that progress may be slow at times, but I promise you that it's there.

Thank you for understanding.

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