I have this innate tendency to hold on too tightly…to people, to places, and to moments. I stay longer than I should, in an attempt to juice out all of the goods until the final breaking point. Clenching my fists until my nails have formed dark indentations on my palms, I do what I can to keep my grip tight and secure. I’m not able to loosen my grip and begin letting go until well past the expiration date. And even then, it still stings.
I don’t hold on so tightly because I want to – I wish endings were easier for me. I wish endings didn’t bring about such emotional fatigue. But I’m attached to the attachment. I’m afraid of comforting stories coming to a close, and I’m afraid of letting go of people who mean (or meant) the world to me. I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m afraid of loss. And I’m afraid of being alone.
Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time; a longing; a wistfulness.” But maybe nostalgia can happen in the present moment too. Maybe it’s possible to feel nostalgic even before the present has become a memory. Maybe it’s a fear of a “place or time” becoming a memory that makes letting go so incredibly difficult.
Birthdays have always felt extra bittersweet to me. Each year I look forward to February, yet when my birthday rolls around, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. Even though birthdays are celebrated as new they also signify the endings of all of the years and experiences that have led up to the new age. Birthdays are accompanied by a loss of innocence. Birthdays bring about the closure of all of the previous years, all of the 365 day long chapters. Birthdays turn years and ages into memories. Birthdays turn experiences into stories, stories that have endings. And I think on my birthday, I already fear the loss of this age. I already fear the loss of the moment.
During the sparkly, festive countdown on New Years, the same sentimental, conflicting feelings make their way into my thoughts.I dress up in a silver sequin dress and drink champagne as the clock nears midnight. I smile for photos and try to enjoy the moment. But the mood is never fully that of excitement for me. I used to believe my discomfort stemmed from the pressure to create a new beginning in the new year and to make the most of a fresh, blank slate. But now I understand that my discomfort is rooted in the acknowledgment of an ending. My discomfort comes from realizing that with the drop of the ball, the year is over, and none of the experiences will ever happen again. As the year moves up one number, the world just continues to move forward, leaving the past behind.
Even as a kid, August rolling around would always signify our last summer trip to the beach, which for me meant the last beach trip of the year. The last beach trip each summer would be the last time I would see the Atlantic that year, so every “last” beach trip, I would say goodbye to the ocean, as if it were some big important ending as if I would never return to the same ocean again. Every time I said goodbye to the waves, my heartfelt heavy, with a sense of sadness. Like I wasn’t ready to let go of each particular summer and each specific beach trip. Like everything would be different when I would return the next summer.
The goodbyes to people are by far been the hardest. Goodbyes are the hardest because they signify a loss of something we once held dear. Goodbyes bring about an ending of a time that once felt good to us. Goodbyes put the final period on the page. Goodbyes make the sentence come to a close.
When I’ve lost people I have loved, I’ve grappled with believing that the story wasn’t important if it ended. I’ve feared that when a relationship ends, all that was created within it, together, is forever lost.
But perhaps some of the most golden parts of life are fleeting; perhaps the greatest miracles don’t last forever. Most of the time, they only exist for a moment in time, and then the flickering spark dies out and only the smoke remains. But their brevity doesn’t steal their significance. Endings do not erase the middles. I think all of our stories are still out there, floating somewhere in the universe.
And even though the good times and the special people may not stay with us forever, we can still allow them to impact us immeasurably. We can still feel lucky that our lives were touched in such a way, and we can still feel grateful that we were a part of these stories, and that we had such beautiful relationships with people we didn’t want to lose.
Though it’s inevitable that goodbyes will hurt for a while, I think they become a little bit more bearable when we remind ourselves that we can still keep the meaningful parts of each story with us. We can still let our stories shape us for the better. We can hold our memories close, without living in them.
It can feel comforting to seek a home in nostalgia – to live in our memories, to replay them over and over again, like little film strips that continue to roll on. But at some point, we have to remember that life is still happening and the earth is still spinning, right here, right now. At some point, we have to be here for ourselves and for our hearts in the present. We have to be brave enough to hope that the present and the future will be just as good, if not better, than the old memories we hold close to our hearts.
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