"You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go."
The last part of that line whispers through my mind from time to time. It nestled its way in when I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a few years back. I consider it comforting and useful, especially in recent months when my life seemed riddled with decisions, confrontations, and loss.
I find it so easy to trick myself into holding onto certain things despite knowing full well they must be cut loose. Oh, denial, what a temptress. And yet, finally letting go seems simple compared with what leads up to the act: recognizing - and acknowledging - the true end.
It seems we cling to certain things well past their expiration date in hopes that somehow more time, effort, love or money can revitalize them. Or worse, we may suffer from delusions that somehow the past might be altered, that a relationship's very fabric might be rewoven to change its current texture. We can only move forward with the wisdom we've gathered and do better - no point in expending precious energy on what can never change. Clutching to something stale, be it a choice we've made, a relationship, or a career, promises to turn us miserable and bitter.
But how do we know what's run its course and must be released and what's worth holding onto, even fighting for? When are we giving up prematurely and when are we wisely letting go?
I wonder because I've also found that just when things seem as difficult and unbearable as they could possibly be - if I immerse myself in the fray rather than resist it - sometimes some pretty spectacular things happen.
There's the fairly painful and uncertain hike to a remote "ghost town" in Colorado last summer that, just as we were about to bail, turned into a delightful afternoon with one of its residents. In the past year I started improving at track racing - and found a deeper appreciation for it - just as my morale hit rock bottom and I considered calling it "over." Throughout the past decade, I've believed in other people's ability to overcome dark struggles (as well as my own), and just when these situations seemed as hopeless as they could be, things started to turn around. Now that I think about it, every one of those turning points followed some sort of surrender.
Just last month, I spent some time with a dying loved one, someone I wished I'd been closer to. At first I wondered how to make up for lost time. Then, I realized that opportunities could not be recreated. I could only work with the moments remaining. The two days I spent with her allowed me to let go of the dreams for a different relationship and accept it for what it was. The connection in that final visit could not rewrite our history, but appreciating it for what it was brought me peace.
The best I can come up with is that recognizing the end and knowing when to let go comes back to presence, surrender and acceptance - and listening to the hunch otherwise known as intuition. Maybe it comes to a point where we no longer have a say in the matter; we arrive at that place where we can go no further or the moment we can no longer contain that which we wrap tightly in our arms. We must let go and allow the next moment/opportunity/chapter to unfold. The real decision lies in how - or if - we allow ourselves to move on.