Hold Close and Let Go

For me, using death and loss as a lens through which to view life has afforded me with a passion for life, a state of grace, and a continual awareness of the preciousness of each moment. When we hold death and loss often in our thoughts, as awareness not fear, we will notice inspiration and opportunities for reflection everywhere. We will find resources for the consideration of death and the transience of life all around us.

I recently had one such experience while listening to Alanis Morissette, one of the most enlightened lyricists of our time. Ms. Morissette sings a unique and substantial song entitled, "Utopia." In it, she names all the qualities and characteristics we humans would have in her version of Utopia. It is profound. The day after the death of our fifteen year old, wonderful dog, I was driving around doing mindless errands in order to be away from my home, where the absence of Willie was overwhelming.

I had Ms. Morissette's CD playing and for the first time really heard the line in Utopia "we'd hold close and let go and know when to do which." The tears came as if from a faucet. After the grieving came reflection and I was keenly aware that when it comes to pets, we are better at holding close and letting go.

This is especially true about the letting go because though we do this with heavy hearts we often choose when to let them go, when to end their suffering. We cherish these wonderful creatures. We gratefully accept their unconditional love.

We mourn losing them terribly, but we do know what their life span will be when they enter our lives. Though we hurt tremendously when we lose them, we are often better able to cope with this loss than some others because we seldom have regrets with our pets. Most of us just love and care for our pets all of their lives.

We don't get caught up wishing we had said we loved them one more time. We often treat our pets better than we treat each other. Reflecting on death was just the beginning of the lesson, as is often the case. As I considered this line, I began to see clearly that we must hold close to and let go of everything of importance in our lives, in fact every moment in our lives. Many of us can relate to this concept when we consider our children, particularly those of us whose children are grown.

Parenting is a constant exercise in holding close and letting go. However, it is not only our children that we must love in this way. This is hard to accept when we are sure we cannot live without someone, but the truth is one day we will have to live without them, or they without us. Keeping this in the forefront of your mind allows a bit more freedom with that holding tendency.

Ultimately, it is out of your hands. In fact, it is out of your hands right now. Use that awareness to give one another the space we need as individuals. It is a beautiful thing to watch someone grow and expand him or herself, to find his or her bliss. It is even more beautiful to come together to share the new directions and experiences you both are having. We will not only have to hold close to and let go of people and relationships, but in fact every moment of our lives will pass.

While it may be easier to let go of painful times, it is just as important to know that the great highs will pass as well, each moment has to be let go of as there is a new one waiting. Living in your moments is an ongoing practice in holding close and letting go. Each moment will pass, each action you undertake will end, each sensation will fade, in fact change is the only constant. We have to hold close and let go of every moment that comes. There are times when these matters feel in our own control, when we feel we are able to hold on to situations and relationships, but that is an illusion. My sister lives in Los Alamos, New Mexico where a forest fire recently devastated the community, rocking their sense of security and forever altering their perspective on the illusive nature of safety.

During the fires as we watched the news unfold, we kept hearing reports that their street had been heavily impacted by the fire. We were all certain their home had been lost. It was not, but it has permanently changed her sense of security, the sense that this can't happen here. I recall talking to her after she was able to return to the home she had been evacuated from for nearly two weeks, a home she has lived in for nearly two decades.

She said, "It's strange to return to your home and no longer feel safe there." I remember saying to her, "When you realize you never were, you'll be fine." This may not have helped, in fact I will admit it sounds harsh, but I believe it. It is much like being asked to face a fatal diagnosis to be evacuated from your home in this way. One minute everything feels fine, you are cleaning the bathrooms, and the next fire marshals are shouting from loudspeakers that you must evacuate. Life can and does turn on a dime.

Living with a sense of the nature of life and death places this illusion of safety in its proper perspective. It is an illusion, death is right there waiting, it happens every day to thousands upon thousands of people. Everything is temporary, nothing is in our control except our response to matters. Knowing this to our core can allow us a sense of the truly precious state of each moment, can help us to be grateful and rejoice in even the most mundane of life's moments. These moments are the sum of our lives.

Awareness helps put things into perspective and teaches us what really matters in life. People and relationships are what matter, holding our loved ones close is far more important than clinging to possessions. We can enjoy the treasures of our lives, our homes and the belongings in them, but one day we will have to let them all go. What is more, when you face loss it is never the things that matter, it is the people, their presence, their smile, their love. Anyone of us who has lost someone we treasure would trade all of our possessions for one more moment with them. Why not realize this now? It will help us to let go emotionally of those things that don't really matter so much, and by things I mean things - material possessions,they are nothing keep them in their proper perspective.

They are just temporary anyway, just like we are. Hold close and let go and know when to do which. Thank you Ms. Morissette for the reminder.

Jana Baldridge Vargas is the author of "The Promise of Death, The Passion of Life: A Reflective Exploration of Death, Loss, and Living Fully." Learn more about Jana and her work at http://www.thepromiseandthepassion.com

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