Above my bed hangs a tapestry, silk-screened from the repository of platitudes that sit waiting in any self-respecting Asian fusion warehouse. Sold in the China Pavillion at Epcot’s World Showcase, I passed on buying the highly Americanized “ancient Buddhist” relic during my senior trip, only to regret it when we returned to life in high school. It was a time of change and approaching deadlines—one that really steamed up any raw emotions and spun them into fast forward—a crucible of sorts. I was excited, exhilarated to graduate, terrified of the end of the summer and downright anxious for the beginning of my life as a member of the Tribe. Yet in this whirlwind of barely recoverable memories, I was able to pluck the gem out of the kitsch—though my bones were telling me that change wasn’t fair—in fact, it was terrifying—I knew that somewhere in my mind, part of me was crooning that it was necessary, it was good, it was needed.
I spent a couple months in Williamsburg wrenching myself off the digital umbilical cord to NJ. I spent a couple months (they overlapped a bit, so sue me) stepping out of my comfort zone and into the throes of an experience that forever changed the course of my life1. And a little more than half-way through my tenure on campus, I mentioned the above decoration and how much of an impact that little four line platitude had on me. It was the written equivalent of a frying pan, hitting me over and over again in such ways that I wasn’t even sure what they were doing—but it was always there, enchantingly informative and alluringly complex.
For my birthday during my Junior year, two very good friends of mine tracked it down. It’s been on my wall ever since.
It seems to say, if you think about a first big change, “This is horrifying. Good. Release your grip.”
Then during a second, it seems to say, “Don’t you wonder where this line is?”
Because maybe, just maybe, more isn’t better when it comes to letting go. Maybe learning to love with reckless abandon is an endgame—but maybe you must temper this with compassion. Maybe learning to live can transform your soul—but maybe you cannot forget how to die. Maybe learning to let go is essential to reap all of life’s benefits—but maybe you have to attach meaning to things…meaning that simply won’t fade away with time.
Often, the idea of “growing up” and “moving on” from college, from a job, from a relationship2 is met with an alacrity for speed. The quicker you can ditch all of your ties, the better off you are (and obviously, the fastest person is the best person). But taking a moment3 and savoring these things—the triumphs, the utter defeats, the embarrassments, the fulfilled points, the missed opportunities, the nostalgia—can flesh out experiences in ways that seem much more alarmingly chance, intricate and untenable. And wondrous.
There are some memories, experiences, years, days, months that it pays to maintain. But there must be flexibility in the soul, adapting to new stimuli and circumstances in a way that can make this moment, right here the one you’re living. You cannot afford to solely look towards the future—and you cannot fathom the wreckage you will encounter if you solely look towards the past. It’s like driving down I-64 when you’re coming home, not from the semester but from a pit stop—you need to be constantly scanning, you need mirrors, you need friends to keep you awake and point out the things you’ve missed in front of you, behind you, and on the radio.
You are the person you become due in large part to the experiences you have. Jettisoning these things you’ve worked through reeks of slicing off your fingers. Severance and abandonment of experiences that made you happy, nostalgia for events that filled you with life—these things aren’t weaknesses, so long as you have both feet firmly in the present and some friends who will share with you a campfire, a few beers on a second-hand couch or roof, a sky where you can see the Milky Way.
This could be how you move on without leaving everything behind.
Currently listening to: Sunday Morning – No Doubt.
1Yes, a soft phrase, I know. But what experience that mattered to you didn’t change your life? Especially one that started five years ago and has never stopped mutating alongside you.
2Or even, possibly, from hoarding all of those disgusting bottle caps you say you’ll make into a coffee table “some day.”
3A day, a year, a lifetime?