One of the most difficult things to learn in life is the art of letting go and learning to grieve. I guess I call it an art because it seems to take so long to really learn. But you can also call it a requirement, a need, an inevitability if life is to go on growing upwards and moving forward.
The hardest thing about letting go is that it is such a tricky thing to recognize the moment when it finally happens, the moment whatever you are holding onto, whatever deep loss, whatever fear, whatever anxious grip of control, whatever determined expectation or failed dream, the moment it slips from your hand and falls to the floor cushioned by acceptance, reality, and recognition. There is no logic or calculation to how it happens, or when it happens.
But another reason that makes letting go an art is because when it really happens part of what is created by this art form is new space, new possibility, new unmarked territory, something where a future can be hoped and waited out. It makes me think that learning to let go is just another way in which we live into the idea of resurrection, new life. When something dies no matter how traumatic and devastating and unexpected, there is always the possibility for new life to open up from the loss. It just seems to take incalculable time.
I know about grief. I know about trying to figure out anew who you are after some difficult loss. I know that part of learning to let go of people, things, situations is about rediscovering aspects of oneself and having to patiently and intentionally endure so many little attempts at newness. It is like trying on different ways of being and tiptoeing around the world to see what sticks, what fits, what seems right. It is part of groping around through that long tunnel of grief. Sometimes you catch light and you know that the clearing, the opening is coming. Only it's not always as close as you'd imagined or hoped. But you know it's coming so you keep groping in good faith.
The odd and somewhat unanticipated thing is that you can get so used to your new surroundings, so used to the very process of groping that for a while you let that become your identity. You let that "in between" stage shape how you engage and narrate the world. It becomes the undergarment you first put on in the morning, that thing upon which you seem to layer the rest of your days. And you occasionally mistake the fact that you are used to the groping with the possibility that you have reached the clearing. When you haven't yet.
The Art of Losing and Letting Go
Then, in the midst of being used to loss and grief and mistaking comfort with resolved healing, you bump into something or someone that reminds you that the brighter clearing is still ahead. You experience yourself in some new way that feels unfamiliar, not right or wrong, just unfamiliar and somewhat uncomfortable. But the call is to trust that those are good signs, to trust that it means you are learning to see differently and the discomfort is just the normal thing that happens when after being in the dark for so long you begin to catch longer and brighter strands of light ahead, and your focus has to adjust somewhat. Then one day, when you least expect it, you just find yourself there, blindsided by healing and clearing and open space.
And I think it is okay to just stand there for a while, to just get used to the light before taking any more steps forward.
Enuma Okoro writes from Raleigh, NC. Her latest book is Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community. Visit her website