It is 6:40 am and completely dark outside. Oh, this winter cocoon time. I can still be surprised by its intensity as it comes to take a huge bite out of my desire for complacency. It is not as cold outside as it usually is this time of year in Madison, although my Madison peeps are posting hiking and bike riding pictures. Yesterday in Newton, a storm gifted us damp, chilly rain, hail, thunder and lightening. We ventured out for food shopping, and that only because it was necessary.
I started writing in bed and moved to my leather writing chair in the dining room. I move about the house in the dark, a habit from when I shared a bedroom and did not want to disturb my sleeping mate. I pull on my heavy pj pants and grab the shawl from Madison friends–blues and purples and memories. Tangible memories from friends punctuate my days—a Madison dish towel, knitted dish clothes, a bag of very fine cocoa mix, even the reusable bags I carry my groceries in. In the lonely and trying moments of the last six months, these things have bought solace.
This week between and in the midst of holidays is quiet—an eternity of unstructured weekend days. Someone will ask, do you have plans? And for moments afterwards, I lose confidence in my only plan: to lie low, do the work of the day, nap, build a robot (one of Julia’s gifts), draw, watch movies and go to bed early. After a year of change and a few particularly difficult months, rest and replenishment is all I considered for the holiday break. That said, I have a terrific case of wanderlust and I am longing to dive back into my writing project after a completed NaNoWriMo and quite fallow December.
Our outings this week were few: a movie at a dine-in theater in Framingham and a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The first a disappointment although the movie, Frozen 2, was wonderful. The movie theater, advertised as Dine-in is only half dine in, and bad on me, I didn’t read the fine print when I bought the tickets online. Our theater was in the non-dine-in part. Julia loved the dine-in theater in Madison and wanted Framingham’s to be the same. It wasn’t. It was more expensive, we had to wait on line for food and prop the plastic plates on our laps. I considered and rejected a popcorn supper. It was one of those times of wanting to replicate what was fun in the past and failing. Perhaps such attempts cannot help but fail. For all that, the movie did not disappoint. There is no “Let it Go” but I am not ungrateful for that. Music is sometimes forced but well done, plot is well thought out and the characters are still interesting. The silliness for the youngest viewers is still charming and admittedly, I would not mind seeing this one again.
Another day, we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was more crowded than I expected, a thought echoed by a number of visitors in the ticket queue. It is, as they describe, an unusual museum experience, the work of one very dedicated and somewhat eccentric woman at the turn of the 20th Century. Art and objects and furniture and room settings are layered in very personal ways. There are very few small markers about the art—Gardner wanted the visitor to take in the assemblage on its own terms. There are written room descriptions and audio tours. Julia and I used the audio tour and both of us wanted more about what was not described on the tour. To be fair, a complete tour of a single room would take hours! The commentary never describes Gardner as eccentric but what else could she have been? Among a few concessions, those named Isabella, get in for free. Gardner was so very much herself. This is a museum I would volunteer at—to spend time, perhaps even when it was not open to the public taking in the rooms bit by corner by ceiling by curio cabinet.
And more! In 1990, thieves dressed as police officers stole 13 works of art. The theft remains the biggest unsolved art theft in world history. The search for the works continues; three empty frames hang for us to remember; rewards are offered.
With so much quiet time comes reflection, most pointedly on lessons learned this year. Almost but not completely inadvertently, I have learned about letting go. I’ve read my quota of books and articles, listened to podcasts and TED talks around forgiveness and letting go. And the other day when a few new relevant TED talks popped up, I clicked on one. The speaker was not saying anything new, perhaps connected to a novel experience but the message is always that forgiving and letting go are for the one holding on to hurt, anger or pain more than the offending party. Acknowledging my part in painful relationships is not difficult, but letting go of the guilt and shame has been hard. Coulda’, woulda’, shoulda’ was my creed. I had no patience for time and processing. And I feared that if I re-engaged where there had been hurt, I would be swept back into what I had stepped away from. I might be overcome with regret.
Over the past few years, I’ve grieved the loss of two close friends—one was out of my life, the other close once, now distant. I had not let go of either of them; however, I hung on to remnants of hope, trying to parse all that I had done, could have or should have done to prevent the losses. I could not think or reason my way out of the blame and shame of losing friends. I could acknowledge and apologize for my part of the hurtful time but that satisfied no one, and had nothing to do with my letting go.
And then, this year, I started letting go of many, many material things. Furniture, clothes, curios kept in boxes, extra stuff saved ‘just in case,’ my mother’s wedding dress and the last of David’s clothes. After I got to the new house, there were things I found did not fit and if I could not use something and it was not beloved, I let those go as well. I have mastered, at least for now, letting go of what is material. The hardest lettings of the year were the loving community I had in Madison—there were walks and morning coffees and dinners that I came away from wondering if I was crazy to leave—and my Madison home, let go of in increments as the staging and selling process took shape, and continued until the day the big van left it empty. All that practice of allowing for the waters of change to flow through my hands and heart built new muscles and loosened some of the grip I had on what I didn’t want to change. And the practice bled into other letting go.
I learned I have few grudges and no one living or departed owes me an apology. I have nothing to forgive any other being for. I need to forgive myself for a lack of self-compassion. There is work to do here. I have flaws, some of which tore the fabric of failed relationships and some of which are part of my life as a single parent of a person with disabilities. I do not excuse my failings citing my responsibilities, but the responsibilities are what they are. I am not the most generous of persons and for some people, I cannot offer a reciprocal relationship. I can only love and care for as much as I do. In light of what has failed, I wanted to fix what was broken, but I see with slightly wiser eyes that relationships can break beyond resuscitation and letting go of those who cannot give and receive happiness is not failure, it is survival and sanity.
I hold fear and anger. Anger about a life that did not turn out as expected and at myself for not living up to my ideal of how my not always resilient self has performed. And fear of repeating my failures and unintentional losses or being swept back into what does not work. I can’t sweep away all the fear and I continue to work on that one. As for anger, there is work to do there.
Today, I am left with feelings of re-invention, of cleaning out cobwebs and of choosing just who I want to be in this place and time. I will probably re-read this posting next week or next year and wonder why all of this was not self-evident long ago but for the moment, the discovery is exhilarating.