by Zinta Aistars
Of all life's lessons, perhaps one of the most important, and one of the most difficult for me, is the lesson of letting go. The wonderful phrase, as I have heard it, both deeply comforting and vastly terrifying, is: "Let go, let God."
You mean… I'm not God? I don't control the universe? Shucks. And here I thought… that sparkling tiara, rhinestones spelling out, "Empress of the Universe," was mine. Well, no. I never really did think that. But one can dream.
Yes, yes, tongue firmly in cheek. Truth be told, I would never want such responsibility. I have quickly grown exhausted when I have in the past tried to carry such weight. I happen to think being God, or being Empress of the Universe, is a pretty tough job, and I want none of it. Or only the tiniest sliver of it. Now and then. So that I can toss it back again when I tire.
Life has been a bit on the stressful side of late. I have had two dear friends cry on both of my shoulders in just the past week. I was able to do nothing more than to listen, offer my heartfelt empathy, a warm embrace. There, there. Even while I knew (adding stress), there but for the grace of God … and, too, that I could do nothing to take away their pain or alleviate their fears or solve their problems. I could only fully be with them. Let go, let God, alongside them.
See, God and I argue a great deal. We've been doing this my entire life. Sometimes I behave, but sometimes I really, but really, don't want to. I see another path and I want to follow it. He won't let me. He apparently has a different path in mind for me. I bristle, I whimper, I thrash, I shake my fist at the silent and aggravatingly patient sky. Try as I might, however, to change what appears to be firm destiny, the intended path stands open before me, and God is there at the first turn, urging me along. Get going, Z.
All right. I am getting going.
And just to let me know this path won't be so very bad, or so very scary, He leaves a treat for me here and there, almost like a trail of Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs, just so I won't get too lost or too discouraged.
Aforesaid friends, for instance. They are quite new in my life. People who wouldn't know me from Adam, that new, yet connecting with me so quickly and firmly, so surely, that I cannot doubt we were meant to blaze a few trails together, at least for a while. A few shared meals, a couple (or a couple more) tossed back drinks, and we are sharing life stories and finishing each other's sentences. It is the comfort of finding mirror images, other souls who get it, get us, so that we can sigh with relief that we do not have to explain every last thought or demystify every instinct followed. Those are magical moments. Real breadcrumbs along the wooded paths, if not actual hot buttered slices.
And then there are the friends who surface from the past, long thought buried. (The past, that is, not the old friends.) One such jumped into my day just last week, same week as my needful friends, and on a particularly stressful day, when I had begun to question all purpose and direction, muttering nastiness at the Big Guy again. Am I really who I think I am? Are all my lifelong honed skills being questioned? Have I done the obligatory spilling of blood, sweat, tears, for naught? But I come home to a voicemail left on my blinking machine, and I listen to it three times before I take it in: I have been asked to be a judge on the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo later in September. At a time when I have been struggling with the sense that I am not being trusted to do what I do best, that I have even begun to question (distrust) myself, here it is—implicit trust. That I do know how to do what I do best. I call back and with renewed heart accept the offer. I can hardly wait for the packet to arrive in my mail of grant proposals to review. And I am filled with a sense of almost overwhelming honor, that other artists are putting their sweetest dreams at least in part into my hands. I understand this. I honor this. Because I know, this is that lesson with which I so struggle: letting go. Let God. Let the judges do their thing and with heart and skill, decide. I will do my part with utmost care.
That offer came to me, I realize, because of an old connection. Years ago, a story I had written, and the person I had profiled becoming more than a subject of an article during the course of our four-hour interview. Both our lives have experienced a few storms since. Both of us now work in entirely different places and manner and venues. But I can hear her voice in the background as I speak to someone at the arts council about the particulars of my new role: "Tell Zinta I love her! I will call soon!"
On the other end of that phone line, for a moment, I close my eyes and smile. We haven't spoken for years. Time has devoured too much. Yet even with the passage of time, I well remember that moment long ago, of looking into a mirror image and knowing myself connected. In learning someone else's life story, I returned to my own. A breadcrumb today, and I remember how I used to know how to do that, listen to stories, embrace those stories, and tell them back to the world again. The connections made were myriad.
What we give along the way, with time, always, in equal measure, comes back to us.
Sometimes, I know, we are the ones who leave breadcrumbs for others. Our paths wind around and find each other again, for a while travel in parallel directions before perhaps veering off again. If on occasion I feel lost again, questioning my direction, I am learning to renew my trust in my own good instinct, to follow its voice of wisdom, even as I sometimes suspect it may tangle with the voice of God and urge us forward. Even if the next turn seems the darkest and steepest of all.
I know I need to listen. For a while, to quiet my own voice, just listen. For a while, slow my hurried steps long enough to spot the crumbs mixed in with the stones on this path. As I pack a bag with a few carefully chosen items for my upcoming week at a retreat, it is my intention to slow down, to be silent, to walk, to listen, to take a long moment simply to breathe. Breathe. And exhale.
And I wonder at the name–retreat. A part of this week is indeed to retreat from the busyness of life, from the roar of too many demands, from the murkiness of madness when all perspective gets lost. But this is not just to retreat. I am entering this week ahead with the idea, too, of embrace. All that the silence will say to me. All that the days and nights of solitude will bring to me. All that my heart can hold for the gifts I am trusting I will find.
As I leave my home, my family, my friends, my work, and travel to this place in the wilderness, where I will be greeted by what at this time I only know as a sweet and soft spoken voice on a telephone line, pointing me in the direction of a path that will lead me into the woods—I will retreat from one life to embrace another. At the end of this path, I am told, is a cabin reserved just for me. It will have little more than a bed, a table, a chair. It will be far away from any sign of civilization. It will have no television, no Internet connection, no newspapers, no phones, no fax machines. Not even a radio. It will have a small stove where I can cook whatever groceries I can carry into the woods in my backpack. No one will bother me for the entire time I am there. Until I emerge from the woods again.
I pack my bag slowly, pondering each item. Books to read and notebooks in which to write. These will be my sustenance. Many ideas. More than a few hopes.
I hope to leave the stress of a too busy life behind. Or to at least be able to peel it away, layer by layer, over the coming days. Until I find my core again. Until I can find the courage to stop dancing quite so fast and to let go, and allow myself to be carried for a while.
A handful of breadcrumbs. Shards of mirror images and the echoes of loving voices. These are coming with me. To these I will return. Retreat and embrace.
I'm letting go now, Lord. Show me the way.