Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Letting Go

Student assembly address:

Most of you know my father died in April, so my siblings and I agreed to use the Labor Day weekend to converge on my mother’s home in Mobile, AL and help her begin the process of purging the house of “stuff” to get it ready to sell.

My mother has lived in that home for almost forty years. It’s the place where she and my dad raised me, my three sisters and brother, and where she and my father built a life together. Mom has an eye for decoration and over the years, through several renovations, purchases and inheriting some nice furniture, she’s been able to build a home that resembles something you might see in Southern Living magazine.

Mom loves that home, and she’d prefer to live there until she dies, but it’s simply too big for her to live in by herself, and she’s having a hard time getting up and down the stairs. It’s time. We spent this weekend clearing out the attic. It was like an archeological dig, sorting through old pictures and other memorabilia, deciding what should be kept, what should be given away and what should be thrown away.

It was a hard weekend for Mom. Losing one’s life partner is very hard, but she had no choice in the matter. Deciding to sell one's home is a voluntary decision—a “letting go” of something of great importance, a decision to “move on” to something else even though what one is moving on from is very precious.

“Letting go” isn’t something that only 73 year old widows must do, however. It marks all our lives. Fact is, we don’t like change—we have a natural aversion to it. It’s why you sit in the same seats for every class and get really annoyed if someone else sits there. It’s why it’s so comfortable to let our mothers wake us up in the morning for school as if we were still five years old, or be the one responsible for remembering deadlines for us, or appointments, or waiting for her to tell us to do things that we knew needed doing long before she told us.  It’s why mothers, by the way, are so reluctant to give up those roles as we get older—to withdraw that support they must acknowledge that they are no longer needed in the same way as when we were children.

“Letting go” is hard, because it means we’re accepting something new, something unknown, while giving up what is safe and familiar. And yet, that’s the journey that mature, healthy people take. Seniors, you’re less than a year now from moving out of the house, most of you, and beginning to forge your own life. Whether you attend Church next year, or go to bed at a reasonable hour, or wake up on time for your classes, whether you party 4-5 nights/week, the friendships you make, the activities you choose, the amount of studying you do—it will all be up to you. And as exciting as all that sounds, it will be also difficult. Most freshmen get terribly homesick and go through a period of depression—not so much because their lives are awful—in fact, they’re quite interesting and exciting. The depression comes from giving up something very precious—our childhood—and instinctively wanting that security and order that marks our childhood, where others do things for us instead of us having to do things for ourselves.

Freshmen, beginning high school is partly about letting go, too. Homework folders are no longer being sent home to your mom and dad which tells them what they should tell you to do for homework—it’s up to you know to keep all that tracked. The clubs you join, the friends you make, the kind of person you become, is much more up to you.

Sophomores, most of you will get your driver’s licenses this year, and it marks a big break in your relationship with your parents, as you are no longer tethered to them to get where you want to go, or where they want you to go,  and that sweet freedom also carries with it the burden of having to decide whether you’ll attend events or parties that you know you probably shouldn’t and being placed in that new position of saying “yes” or “no” to situations that would never have arisen if we’re being driven around by our fathers. 

Juniors, the world is opening up to you, with classes getting harder and college decisions looming, and there’s real temptation to cling to our childhood, where life was easier but you also know, instinctively, that those days are behind us now, and we must move forward.

My prayer for my mother, for you and for me, is that all of us have the courage to “let go” of our pasts and the maturity and courage to embrace the future that awaits us. All of us are tempted, I think, to want to know exactly how the next twenty years of our life will unfold, hoping that we could look inside that crystal ball to map things out. But in the words of John Dunne, a poet-theologian-priest, that would be the “deadly clear path” which would rob our lives of adventure, wonder, awe. Instead, we are like cars driving down a windy road at night, with the headlights only illuminating a patch of darkness at a time. The only way to see beyond that patch is to keep driving forward. That’s the excitement of life, the thrill, the journey of our lives. 

May we all have the courage to accept what’s in store for us!

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