Letting Go

This page collects random reflections driven by traumatic events in my personal life. While the core events began long ago, this series grew from an incident in November, 2015.

Posted March 14, 2016:

I credit a dozen Benedictine monks, a Catholic saint, a handful of ancient and modern philosophers, a Lutheran minister and two Buddhist teachers: They helped me let go.

Brick WallIn early November, 2015, two very important people in my life gave me a reality check that led to this conclusion: My efforts to bring about a reconciliation reflected a certain arrogance, hubris, pride. My insistence on penetrating the wall of silence these two erected was disrespectful. And, very likely, counter-productive.

I knew this a long time ago. Every expert source I consulted told me the same thing: Keep the door open, but there is nothing you can do. That wall can only be broken by them.

There had to be a way, I thought. It’s just that no one has thought of it yet.

Pride.

A reluctance to fully embrace the sorrow.

And to let go.

That’s why they no longer see birthday cards, random postcards or Christmas presents darkening their mailboxes.

Comments (Replies):

JR: Letting go can be so powerful.

DA: Go, Mark, go! Forward! When you let go, frequently it comes back in a more positive dimensional way years later.

MR: xox I really appreciated our conversation the other evening. (Thank you so much for asking. I was deeply touched. So many steer clear once they get an inkling of what happened)

JS: When it happens it will be great.

KR: Very familiar with this dynamic, it’s a slow chipping process from generations of animosity. (Yes. My goal is to break the pattern.)

HW: Come visit.

JB: Unfortunately, you can’t make people love you or want to be part of your life. (I wish) Letting them go gives them the energetic space to come back by themselves (or not) without feeling emotionally pushed. Letting go says you respect their choices and lets you feel so much lighter. Good for you Mark!

LM: Non ho delle parole sagge, ma ti mando dei pensieri buoni, amico mio. (Ti apprezzo moltissimo, caro. Grazie.)

 

RETURN TO SENDER

Posted March 23, 2016:

The current crisis began when a birthday package came back, “return to sender.” My insides felt torn, just slightly milder than what I felt when my son Andrew died. Shame got mixed into it.

Return to Sender postalBut you can only fail at something if there’s actually a chance of accomplishing the goal. Trying, with zero chance of success, is just plain crazy. 14 years! I had to grieve the loss of hope and find my way out of the shame. How?

November, a depressing month thanks to gray skies and rain, felt exponentially more depressing than usual. I felt paralyzed by sorrow: Reluctant to get out of bed, unwilling to go out, unable to work, barely able to feed myself.

Three weeks later, my long-time family counselor, who doubles as a Lutheran minister, showed me a path: Go to a monastery. For a week. And be silent.

Comments (Replies):

DA: Honorable and worthy pain and sorrow. The only way through it is through it. Joy comes in the morning. Don’t waste suffering. Excited for your journey, compassion for your heartbreak.

HW: So sorry. Come visit! I’ve space for all. Penny’s traveling then off to med school.

RR: Mark, I’m so sorry. As Deborah said, Joy comes in the morning. I hope you went to the monastery.

DD: Thinking of you.

HW: Gee I wonder why nobody ever suggested that I…

SP: Sending you a big hug, Mark.

GS: Sending love to you, old friend.

SG: Have you gone to the monastery yet, Mark? Hope the quiet helps. There are some lovely monasteries in CA where one can be silent.

 

A WEEK OF (MOSTLY) SILENCE

The Benedictine monks of St. Leo, in central Florida, welcomed me with warmth and respectful silence. I read Augustine, Merton, and Thich Nhat Hahn. I re-read Alain de Botton’s “The Consolations of Philosophy.” David Brooks’ book, “The Road to Character,” shed light into how others had confronted deep tragedy and life-altering difficulties.

St Leo BrothersI sat in church with the brothers three times a day, listened to the psalms and the readings, parsed them for life lessons. The brothers’ dedication to each other impressed me. We ate together, talked. They asked questions, listened, and provided compassion and small bits of guidance. Powerful organ music shook me hard enough that I wept.

My hand filled page after journal page of thoughts and feelings. My legs carried me around and around the campus of St. Leo. My eyes read and re-read passages that irritated me, confronted me, or shed wisdom.

Then came the miracles.

 

MIRACLE No. 1

The first miracle came from a reading from St. Augustine. Two messages resonated. First, he said that if you want to impart something to someone, you need to know who they are and speak in a manner they will understand. The intended recipient must be willing to listen. You have to wait until they are willing.

Augustine then talked of John the Baptist. Before he baptized Jesus, many people thought John was the Messiah. “Nope,” he said, “Not me. But he’s coming, get ready.” John could have said yes and been believed, basking in the stolen glory. “He saw where his salvation lay,” Augustine said. “He understood that he was a lamp, and his greatest fear was that he might be blown out by the wind of pride.”

Just as Brother Stanislaw read that word “pride,” a sunbeam exploded through a stained glass window, spotlighting the church’s pale butter-colored walls like a rainbow.

Message received.

 

BLOWN AWAY

The church organ provided the second miracle. Wednesday, I found the organist tuning up for a concert. We chatted. Something moved me: “If you were asked to use your music to drive the Holy Spirit into a man’s soul, what would you play?” He studied me, then directed me to the acoustic apex: Eight pews back, center of the nave. I stood, arms at my sides, looking up at the stained glass rose window above the altar. I held myself as if about to receive a painful blow.

Blown Away Man croppedThe music started, big and powerful, a concert of sound with low bass notes that shook the walls. Within seconds, my body began to tremble uncontrollably. Tears burst out of me, streaming down my face. Sobs wracked my body.

When I collapsed into a pew, the organist shifted to a soothing melody. Slowly, the tears stopped. And something remained open.

 

BLESSED

Father David showed me the way to the third miracle. I resisted letting go, equating it with abandonment. The moment my firstborn landed in my hands, I vowed I would never leave him. My father abandoned me, and I can imagine nothing more shameful.

Blessing 2When I finished my story, Father David sat silent for a minute. “I sense your suffering. A big part of that is the pain of rejection by people you love. But letting go is not at all the same as abandoning. You aren’t abandoning them. They abandoned you.”

I felt freed of a burden. It’s not up to me. There is nothing I can do. I must wait.

Father David offered me a blessing. I’m not a religious man, but I thought, “He believes he can channel the Holy Spirit. Nothing to lose.” He crossed himself and gently put his hand on my head. “May God bless you.” It was a gift, from one man to another.

 

ANDREW VISITS

Andrew provided the fourth miracle at St. Leo. The day of remembrance for bereaved parents fell during my week there. At 7 pm, I borrowed a votive candle from the church and took out my photo of Andrew. I lit the candle and once again a crazy idea grabbed me and I, well, I started talking to Andrew. We spoke for 20 minutes. Me out loud, imagining what he would say.

Andrew, circa 1991, Dallas

Andrew, circa 1991, Dallas

His irreverence gently skewered me, a beacon of rationality. I could hear him, chastising me for pressing gifts and letters on the two who didn’t want to hear from me, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. Even though I knew they didn’t want anything from me. He said, “You are such a dork. You’ve been annoying them.”

Annoying. Great. Thanks. Now you tell me.

“All you had to do is ask.”