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The Learning Curve of Letting Go

Jessie MaComment

Once you realize how impermanent everything in life is (or how impermanent life itself is,)

and witness your own embarrassing/endearing naïveté when things that once felt like “forever” dissipate (sometimes with zero warning),

you are more or less forced to “let go.”

It took me several encounters with loss, but what was once met with denial and a tightened grip is now met with quiet acceptance and a graceful wave.

I've learned to let go.

My friend recently shared with me her thoughts on the “momentary-ness” of everything.

She explained human experiences in terms of energy – how it can be neither created nor destroyed.

Thus, "loss" and "gain" don't actually exist.

Things are only "transformed or perhaps redirected, kinetic to static, winter to spring, life to death.”

This concept reminded me of the line, “So it goes” from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

3 words, small and simple, but in context throbbing with philosophical density.

I love (and remember) this book for this one phrase. In the story, we examine life and the universe from the book’s alien species' ("Tralfamadorian") perspective:

All moments in time co-exist at once. According to these aliens, when someone is in pain or dead in one moment, they are alive and well in all the other moments within their lifetime. And outside of it. The moment exists, plain and simple, just as important (or not) as any other moment. (*Think Interstellar’s Tesseract scene.) Each moment is given equal value, stripping them of any emotion that may distinguish one as more important than another. This sense of detachment, or even of blatant unconcern, serves as a way for the main character, Billy Pilgrim, to desensitize himself from the traumas of war and recurrent confrontations with death.

Basically, we (and all that we experience) are specs of dust.

To me, “So it goes” helps me view human experiences, including loss and death, as inevitable and not meant to be tragic. 

As my friend illustrated, we are simply moving through experiences, recycling energies. Loss and gain, life and death.

It's kind of cynical, but an undeniably practical, unemotionally factual, disturbingly sensible way to think about our lives. The more we adopt the Tralfamadorian mindset, the easier we can move through the pain and loss that is sure to take up more than a few chapters in our stories.

Perhaps this is why, with age and experience, our skin gets thicker and our minds take the reins over our hearts. It’s only natural to accumulate more losses and gains over time, events that indirectly teach us just how little control we have over most things. We watch, mouths agape, as the clock keeps ticking and the world keeps spinning with little awareness of (let alone mercy on) our personal tragedies.

Not that I’m becoming more emotionless or defeated, but the bad feelings that would have made me inconsolable when I was younger, the feelings that would pierce and break and shatter me to pieces –

Well, they still do.

But they also move through me more quickly, as my brain is able to digest these feelings by taking them as moments, as experiences.

I’ve had some practice with loss now. Practice that I never asked for. But that’s exactly how I got better by handling it. At accepting that I will continue to lose many more things that I’m not prepared to…


I’ve learned to let go.

"And yet,"

It’s the phrase that appears in The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, in comparable quantities as “So it goes” does in Slaughterhouse Five.

And that’s it – the hook – the thing you can’t let go of – against all knowledge – casting off better judgement – as we're slaves to our mortality, but bigger slaves to this –

THIS, what makes us human.

Because I know we can’t control much, I know we’re so insignificant, I know it’ll all amount to dust in the end, tomorrow, in a year, when I die –

and yet.

If we were truly meant to equalize every experience, filter out all meaning, dismiss the inherent importance of individual life and death, of weddings and funerals and first kisses and heartbreaks...

Just kill me now. What ARE we living for, then?

The book itself about loss. Yet it is filled with nuances of love – crazy love, reckless love, against all hope or reason… love. It employs 3 stories within the story, weaving through each other via characters and parallels in complicated, unforeseen twists and overlaps. I love The History of Love because it’s dramatic, emotional, beautifully written, fantastical, and most importantly, makes me think, “No, so it does NOT go.”

After every grandiose statement that seems so factual, so DEFINITE, theres always a second perspective, clamping down right at the moment of highest emotion, introduced with the phrase, “and yet,”

It teaches me to hold on.

I got this tattoo –“so it goes, and yet” which, upside down, also reads “and yet, so it goes,” as a reminder to balance these two perspectives. To strive for a healthy relationship between the practical, and the vulnerable.

When I get too attached to something, then lose it, I tell myself,
"And yet, so it goes.."

You love him so much and it hurts to lose him. But you have loved before. And you will love again. 

When I need to embrace my softness to allow myself to feel the full range of love and happiness, but become fearful of the dangers of investing too much in impermanent feelings, I tell myself,
"So it goes….. and yet,"

Yeah I  might lose you. But that's WHY I should love you with my all, right now. 

I believe that the head and the heart can work in harmony, by focusing the spotlight on the perspective best called for in a specific situation.

This is my reminder that life needs both. Anything can have transformative power, but how you let it (negatively or positively), depends on how you choose to see it.

The little girl in me who wants to love, and the wiser cynic in me that knows it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Softness and sense work together, taking turns to tell me

"Let go," or

"Hold on. Just a little."