Saturday, September 22, 2012

holding on

There's a poem I've been clinging to these days. It's called HOLD ON TO WHAT IS GOOD and it's by Nancy Wood: 

Hold on to what is good
even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life
even when it is easier letting go
Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you.

I have a tendency to hold on to things. Sometimes I hold on to the wrong things. Other times, I hold on to the right things, but end up convincing myself that I'm doing the wrong thing by holding on.

For example: I keep old love letters from various ex-boyfriends in a box beneath my writing desk. They span a period of about seven years. I told my writing group this once and everyone’s mouths dropped open like this was the most scandalous thing they’d ever heard. I never take the letters out; I don’t even remember the last time I opened the box. I keep them because they are a part of my life, a part of the girl I once was, and I don’t want to forget the people and circumstances that have made me who I am. For me, there is pain in those letters, but there is also love, and there’s no shame in either of those things. There’s no shame in remembering them.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, "You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news." She then goes on to talk about how losing your loved one is like breaking your leg, only your leg never heals right, and you have to "learn to dance with the limp". I remember reading that passage a long time ago and clinging to it the way I've been clinging to Nancy Wood’s poem. And this is why: These days, I'm holding on to a certain place and certain people who are either mostly gone or who will soon be gone, and I won't be able to get them back. There's this inevitability that one day they will no longer be a part of the normal rhythms of my life, or if they are, those rhythms will be drastically changed. 

So what happens when the places that you once belonged to and that once belonged to you are no longer yours, no longer accessible to you? What happens when the people who you belong to and who belong to you begin to fade away, or walk away, or stop remembering you, or close their eyes forever? What do you do?

For me, there’s a little voice in my head that says: Everything changes. Everything dies. You have to move on, grow up, put it behind you. But the thing is, that kind of thinking never helps me. It only makes me hold on tighter. Words like these, on the other hand – like Nancy Wood’s or Anne Lamott’s – they say something else. Just like Lamott's limp, this poem suggests that there is something indestructible about really fragile things. You can never truly escape the loss of something or someone that was once a part of you - and that is both the awfulness and the loveliness of it.

It’s okay to move on from things, if that’s what you need to do. But it’s also okay to hold on to things that are important to you. You’ll have a limp, yes, but you'll still be able to dance.

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