Letting Go

“Everything I have ever let go of has my claw marks on it.” – David Foster Wallace

The house I currently live in marks my 34th move in just under 50 years of life. As a child of immigrants I know what it feels like to come into a country where you do not understand the culture or the language. I know the pain of not belonging, of always looking in from the outside. I also recognise that magic moment! When you have lived in that place long enough to be accepted, you are asked to join, your jokes become funny, your stories interesting, you have friends, you share life and laughter…and you never want it to end.

That is how I felt in my last year in high school, living in South Africa after moving there from Germany ten years earlier. I had received that mysterious ‘cool’ status and people actually liked to ‘hang’ with me. Then came the devastating news – my grandmother was not well, we were moving back to Germany. Once the tantrums and sobbing subsided I felt dead on the inside. Even after a year in Germany I did not shake that feeling. Looking back I now realise I was depressed (Surprise! Doh!). Endings are never easy, Letting go often feels like dying.

Internet Yoda, aka Google, supplies us with endless articles and self-help tips on how to let go. Letting go of material goods, relationships, a role or position, anger, insecurity, a belief system, places of belonging, etc, etc. Humans do not like to let go! And maybe we just need to face that. There is a part of us that is attached to what we need to let go of. Walking away is letting go of a sense of identity and  belonging to that object, emotion or relationship(s). Some of the studies conducted with people with hoarding disorders show an inability to let go of ‘stuff’ because they have assigned so much value to their possessions (interestingly, the same people found it relatively easy to throw out other people’s belongings). There is a lesson for all of us in this. We assign value to things/people that we have deeply invested in and that is why ‘letting go’ feels so much like dying.

And yet for all of us life does not remain the same: things change, people change, relationships change, friendships change, and then there comes the inevitable time of necessary endings. A time when you realise that you have to let go for many reasons. Maybe you are desperately clasping to an ideology in order to belong, but you are beginning to realise that this sort of approval-based sense of community is actually toxic? Maybe you have come to recognise that you have become morose holding on to ‘stuff’ that simply does not satisfy or produce any sense of health or well-being? Maybe you simply feel stuck and stagnant, holding on to what once was? Maybe it is time to take courage and embrace a different tomorrow? Sometimes we have a choice in this letting go business. Often we don’t. When loss finds us without our decision or approval, the process of ‘letting go’ needs to be even more gentle, the grief needs to be realised, the trauma understood and processed.

So, friends, as you journey through life many of you have and will face loss. Some may be facing very difficult decisions at this very moment, while others are in the process of stepping through this invisible door of ‘letting go’. As you do, may you discover that amidst the tears and heartache, memories of joy and regret, there is also the faintest trace of hope, faith and love … and, yes, you will learn to breathe underwater…


I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.

And then one day,
– and I still don’t know how it happened –
the sea came.
Without warning.

Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,

less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.
And I knew, then, there was neither flight, not death, nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbours
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.

(Carol Bieleck, R.S.C.J. from an unpublished work)


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  1. fikalo - Reply

    Amazing. I don’t want to spam you with comments, but this really resonates with me – especially in having to throw out unhelpful ideologies. Love that poem, too – I recently watched a video where Fr Richard Rohr reads it out. It’s brilliant.

    • Mugwump - Reply

      Thanks, Fiona. Yes, I first read that poem in Rohr’s ‘Breathing Underwater’ – no words to describe how deeply it affected me. Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Aloma Rexene Noller - Reply

    Good Nicole. We cannot escape this. When the reality of these words
    hit the emotions can be so painful. I know with my own experiences
    these times were easier to face since i came to walk closely with Jesus.
    I pray more will get to know HIM. xx

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