In an essay about lost gloves, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich passes along the story of a woman who exited a train car and discovered that she had only one of her gloves. Just before the doors closed behind her, she tossed it back inside. “Better someone had two, if not her,” the storyteller recounted.
I know I couldn’t have acted so quickly, and I’m not sure that my first impulse would have been so generous. But with little hesitation, the woman leaving the train shifted from thinking of herself to thinking of someone else, from regretting the lost glove to giving her pair to another traveler. How does one learn to let go so easily?
There are people who give something up for Lent, but this month I’m thinking more about letting go. These are different, but not completely. Giving something up is about sacrifice; letting go is about freedom. Both clear space for what matters. Both can provide spiritual focus.
What shall we let go of?
- Stuff that weighs us down—single gloves awaiting lost mates, unused dishes, clothes that don’t fit. I recently let go of the heaviest thing in the house, an upright piano that was too big for our small living room. (I thought someday I might take lessons, but I let the unfulfilled idea go out the door with the piano.)
- The compulsion to acquire more. It’s bad for us, our neighbors, and the earth. And someday we’ll have to haul that stuff to the second-hand store.
- The need to be in control. We’re not. Go ahead and make long-range plans, but hold them lightly.
- Resentments and complaints. Grudges are easy to nurse, but they eventually poison our hearts. Resentment can actually shorten our lives.
- Fear of what might happen. We are not our best selves when we are afraid. Sometimes fear is a weapon used against others; sometimes it’s a cancer that attacks its own body. Either way it’s too violent for those who want to build peace.
- Outrage. Sometimes it’s justifiable and sometimes it works, but it’s caustic. We would do better replacing outrage with lament and compassion and action.
That’s a lot of letting go, but if we keep practicing it will become easier—even second nature. When the doors are closing, we can turn losses into something good. We can be the stories that are passed along to others, who happily hold them as warm gifts in cold hands.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.