I have been cherishing an idea lately that I will be allowed to leave this house when I have finally learned what I was sent here to learn. I am still a little bit Catholic in that way –fatalistic. I buried my statue of Saint Joseph in the yard, upside down and facing the house, and prayed to him, the patron saint of happy homes, to please please pretty please help us sell it quickly and find a new house, a more peaceful one where we can be happy and whole.
I don’t know if Joseph handles the request himself or if he is just an administrator and God works the actual magic. Whoever it is doesn’t seem to be saying no; the answer feels more like “not yet.” We’ve had plenty of showings –several of them second showings– and one insulting offer, so we should be close, but the whole thing is dragging along in this very Old Testament way. It’s not excruciating so much as tedious, so I don’t feel punished; I feel tested.
I’m pretty sure the test is about Letting Go, which is my spiritual Achilles’ heel. I’m an emotional hoarder, storing old injuries and kindnesses in my memory the way some people hang on to old magazines and clothes nobody can wear. My memory is powerful …and sometimes mean. It’s mean to make me remember what has hurt me, but it’s just as mean sometimes to dredge up old indulgences and sympathies and spin them into ideas of lasting friendship or attachment.
I’m a big believer in shared history –the longer I know someone, the more I love them. I love them for who they are of course, but I also love them for the story I get to tell myself about our connection. The richer these stories are with understandings, misunderstandings, love, anger, resentment, and forgiveness, the more attached I become to the main characters. I assume this is yet another symptom of my Romanticism, though I am not just talking about lovers; Romantics (at least this Romantic) can put just as much stock in friendship and family connections, if not more.
My memory is powerful …and sometimes mean.
So I hang on. Tight. I call, I write, I beg to be loved as completely, as fiercely, as desperately as I love my people. I beg with my devotion and my passion, with songs and silence. I know when a friend or cousin or classmate is resisting this, when they want me to let go. It breaks my heart. I feel humiliated by my need and I hang on tighter. I resist rescue by the people who truly value me, I resist reason and acceptance and dignity. I don’t want the story to end. This weakness has made me a rather ineffective fiction writer. It also gets in the way of my writing my own life.
The sad fact that everyone except me seems to understand is that I can’t hang on to everyone. There are people from camp and school and even my family who just don’t want to keep the connection in any meaningful way. In some cases it’s not such a big loss –there are people in every life who read like living versions of Algebra textbooks –but a few who have gotten away from me are truly original, insightful, extraordinary people. I want to keep reading, but they don’t value me in the same way …even if some of them used to value me a long time ago.
Letting go feels so permanent to me –I worry about that. I am a bridge burner; could I find my way back to someone who called out from the opposite shore? Would I be willing to try?
There is a room at Hogwarts Castle (yes, I’m talking about Harry Potter again –just indulge me) called the Room of Requirement, where any student who knows about it may enter and find exactly what s/he needs at that moment –a place to hide, a place to meet, a place to stash something, etc. More than one person can be in there at a time but it can only be used for one purpose at a time.
There’s no letting go of that fire –it’s part of me, proof of my capacity for the magic that starts it in the first place.
In the final book in the series, one version of the Room of Requirement burned with unquenchable fire. Did all the other purposes for that room burn with it? Was any form of that room still there when the castle was rebuilt? Or is it still burning, never able or willing to let in someone who wants to return to it? When I let go of someone for good, my heart is that Room of Requirement, burned away for that purpose, that relationship. I wish I could ask Dumbledore about the possibility of rebuilding, reopening the room someday, so I wouldn’t be so afraid to let it burn now.
It would never be exactly the same, of course — there is no magic to undo a fire like that. The room would have to be different, conjured for a new use. That would be okay. I could live with that. But what if the room’s capacity for magic is diminished by a fire like that? What if it gets weaker? I worry about that for the Room of Requirement and for my own heart. I’m pretty sure I can guess what Dumbledore would say about it: he would say something about second chances. He would say the burning will stop, the room will be restored when you love someone enough to let them back in even when you know –horribly– their capacity to do damage.
That may be what Letting Go really means for me –allowing the fire to burn what it will, to hurt, to ruin, to steal my dignity by exposing my attachment to someone who doesn’t feel the same way about me. There’s no letting go of that fire –it’s part of me, proof of my capacity for the magic that starts it in the first place. Letting go does not mean letting go of my People, it does not mean letting go of my wish that those who walk away from me will someday value me enough to return. Letting go means letting go of my fear that I won’t let them. Of course I’ll let them; I love them no matter what. Isn’t that what we’re all sent here to learn?