*In honor of the new year, I’ve decided to clean out my closets. Not the ones at home filled with old clothes, books, music and other useless items I simply cannot bring myself to part with. I’m talking about inside.
The other day I went through something that, in the great scheme of the universe, couldn’t be more insignificant except that it directed me to a door ajar in my psyche that, when opened, revealed…stuff: Emotions, impressions and mental whims of all gory shapes and sizes from days, years gone by–feelings I thought I’d rid myself of. I opened the door and dared sift through the mire.
Perhaps I thought these feelings might one day have value. Or something. That’s the only reason I can offer for hoarding frustration, as if the emotion were worth owning. All I recall now is how badly it all made me feel in the first place.
I was surprised at the condition, after all these years, of this stuff. Some feelings, I’d outgrown; they no longer fit, thank God. But to my disappointment, plenty did. I came across an old insecurity I thought I’d thrown out, tattered and worn, but intact, waiting to be called upon.
I dug up the remnants of a serious disagreement I had with a friend a few years back. I always insisted that everything was cool between us, but this couldn’t really be true, because I unearthed a grudge as long as the wall of China.
I was captivated–and a little ashamed–at my ability to work up my heart rate over situations that dated back to the Stone Age. Of all the things to be done in life, Letting Go is one of the hardest.
There are men and women who can emotionally assert themselves to climb Mount Everest–and still manage to drag along with them issues regarding their boss or their ex.
We hold onto all kinds of feelings for reasons that sound real and practical and important at the time. “I can’t excuse this one,” you tell yourself. Or: “Look what they did to me.”
And look at what you’re doing to you: Holding tightly to Instant Misery, matters you didn’t deal with, things you refuse to discuss, emotions you won’t work through or sort out. The important news is that until you do, you won’t be able to Let It Go.
You don’t have to forget, but you have to forgive. You don’t have to agree but you have to respect. You don’t have to be anyone’s foot stool. And you have to Let Go. Because Holding On can kill you.
Butterflies churning in the pit of your stomach is what fear feels like when you conjure up this mental manure to which you desperately clench. The trap of holding on is that it gives us a sense of purpose not immediately derived from the notion of Letting Go. When you find noble purpose in embracing intangible doo-doo, you start collecting the kinds of ungodly relics I found in my closet.
I’m declaring my collector days over. Admittedly, this is the task of a lifetime; for so many years, the impulse has been to Hold On for (not so) dear life. However, it’s hard to sleep with the deafening clamor of skeletons doing the Mr. Fantastic in your closet.
Fortunately, I’ve had the rare occasion to travel with no luggage at all, and I like the sensation of traveling light. I may not always slay the dragon, but I don’t have a chance of even keeping him in check if I don’t at least face him.
And then I’ll move on to other things in life–like ridding my closets of old clothes, books, music and other useless items I really do need to part with.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]