I do a lot of long, epic car rides across the country, alone, several times a year. It used to be the case that I would listen to books on tape. Those were good times. In recent years, I’ve moved to podcasts out of necessity. In the past I’ve written about this one podcast I love called “A Way to Garden.” It’s mostly people talking in really soothing voices about gardening, so yeah, sign me up.
I’ve also been a longtime listener of NPR, and This American Life is a favorite that I frequently miss. So, I always listen to those when I travel. During one of my recent trips, I listened to a show called “Show Me the Way,” which had a story about a boy who ran away from home and attempted to seek refuge with his favorite author, Piers Anthony.
A quote from Anthony toward the end struck me so much that I had to write it down, think more about it, and even share it with you. It was this:
One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all cost, or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we’re not that way from perversity, and we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.
Recently, a friend told Z that he wished Z could just learn to “let go.” Z liked the idea and tends to think of himself as too up tight. Though, I think it’s actually hard to know what’s normal stress, awkwardness, anxiety and what’s too much and needs to be “let go.” I’ve been both taken and troubled by the concept.
I’m sensitive to the idea because I tend to think Z might let go too much. I’m biased though because I’m one of the things he’s let go. But I’m not really. But also I kind of am. And so I can’t help but think, what’s so great about letting go? Maybe holding on could be right sometimes too.
I’m familiar with holding on, following through. Probably too familiar. This is a fault when it comes to things like cleaning out closets or recycling moving boxes, but it is also a strength when it comes to things like finishing a college degree.
I’m also taken with the concept because I like the sort of hippy idea of being completely free of constraints–free for adventure, free of stress, obligation, just me and a fast car on a desert highway to Somewhere Else. However, if you’re me, you also quickly learn about balance. For example, I like having time to myself (everyone knows this), but I also like having familial and rewarding work obligations. For example, I might be caught up in a task and maybe I don’t necessarily feel like taking my nephew to the pool one day, but the connection I get from being close to him and going to the pool anyway is always rewarding. I don’t want to let go of those obligations that bring a lot of meaning and satisfaction to my life just because sometimes it is also an obligation.
The Piers Anthony quote shed new light on the idea entirely. Because, you know, I think we do hold on to certain things. Some of it might be inevitable or unavoidable and that’s probably okay and beautiful too. It might help those of us who are uptight in some way, or our friends who are not uptight, understand that it might not always be choice, and even if it is, it might be a completely reasonable and effective coping mechanism.