Letting Go
by Sylvia Robinson

I threw out some dead pine and holly branches today. They had been lovingly arranged in a pewter pitcher many months ago at Christmas time. They were alive and green then and I loved what they said in my room. You wouldn't think they could last so long but they did. Well -- in a way they did. As the life gradually left them, as imperceptible as evaporation, they took an a wholly different appearance which at first I barely noticed. The needles came to wear pale brown edges and while the holly obstinately held its prickly shape, the sharp, green leaves had deepened toward black; their berries which had been such a merry red now clung to the stems in dark and wrinkled clusters. What does it matter, I thought. The colors are different now, to be sure, more subdued, but surely still lovely, aren't they?

Yet I really wasn't sure of the answer to that half-felt question. The branches had become so familiar in my room, such a habit, that it was difficult to see them clearly. Gradually I came to perceive them as a kind of sculpture. I suppose seeing them that way made me forget my reason for putting them there in the first place and so I could postpone having to let go of a habit. Had I been more fully aware, I might have realized much sooner that the arrangement I was so determined to hold onto had become dry and dull.

However, as I passed those branches many times a day I began to be aware of a vague disturbance within me, as though a feeling was trying to make itself known. There was no question -- the essence had long since gone from them. Slowly I came to sense that this inner stirring was -- and this is the closest I can come to it, I think -- an impatience with dead forms. Once or twice I considered throwing the branches out but felt pangs of regret. And yet a small truth was coming closer to the surface of my thinking -- a small green truth that I needed and welcomed. It said: You can't hold on to something dead and at the same time look toward and reach for life. Too much of that holding on is merely remembering what was, or worse still, what might have been.
In how many other areas of my life, I wondered, was I holding on to a dead thing, to the embodiment of some former dream, allowing it -- well-preserved and lifeless as it is -- to take up space that should be used by living things?

So I finally threw out those dead branches. By holding onto a form that had once held life I had been, in a way, disloyal to life itself. With leaves it's pretty clear what needs to be done, but what about those other branches of my life that sometimes need pruning?

It's often hard to know when an action, a pattern, a relationship, and the dream inside, has lost vitality. Maybe it helps to be so in tune with life, with the green part, that you just know when the arrangement has become a sculpture. Sculpture has its place, of course, but it's life that grows, sculpture doesn't. And leaves aside, it helps to know that you can breathe new life into old forms if it's life you love more than the forms.

I walked into my room just now and my face insisted on smiling before I was aware of telling it to. I had responded instantly to the lovely new presence of green on my table. I guess what I've learned from my foliage is that loyalty to an idea -- love and life, for instance -- can help us to throw out or change the forms that no longer embody it. And that takes courage. I'm respectful of just how much when I remember the length of time it took to part with a bunch of leaves that had long since accomplished all they were ever meant to in my life.

Some people think it's holding on that makes one strong. Sometimes it's letting go.