September is cradling us in its sanctuary, poised between the warm promise of summer and the barren landscape of winter.
A few eager leaves already lie trampled on the cooling earth. The angled light of autumn holds the world in long shadows and high definition, the edges of everything sharp and brilliant. The chirping of the surviving summer crickets is muffled by the dry-rustle of brittle leaves in the canopy above. Cool breeze competes with the warmth of sun on skin.
I sit on a park bench in the midst of all this perfection and I drink it down desperately.
Before me, one lonely leaf detaches and lopes in circles to the fragile grass below. There’s a barking dog in the distance and a mower still farther off. The stillness is so complete I can here the blood pulsing in my veins.
Yet. The sacred moment is impaled upon the pit in my stomach. Even now, in the midst of this wonder, an anxiety is building and threatening.
How can I be anxious inside this sanctuary of an autumn moment?
As the smell of summer bloom mingles with the odor of fall decay, I know the answer: I don’t want it to end. I’m thinking about the end instead of the now, and this is the birthplace of anxiety.
I think we ruin sacred moments of wonder and beauty by trying to hold on to them. In fact, any moment in which we fall in the love with this world can be a moment shortened and tarnished by the impulse to hold tight and preserve.
It is ironic, isn’t it? The moments we most cherish must be held delicately. Or we squeeze the joy right out of them…
Leisurely summer vacations full of beach umbrellas, happy-splashy kids, and paperbacks riddled with sandy grit. It’s just too good and as the vacation slowly tips toward its conclusion, we grasp and hold on, but all we accomplish is to anchor our minds in the ending of it.
Or, the fallen leaves are piled in the yard and the kids are piled in it, all giggly and lost in the moment. And you want to grab time by the neck and grind it to a halt. You want the years to stop rolling by so quickly and you want to pause these little lives right here and now. And it ruins the joy of the giddy moment.
Many of us do it every weekend. We turn Sundays into the-day-before-we-go-back-to-work. And the joyful day of rest is replaced by hours of dread. It’s the never-enough thirty minutes of peace before the kids arrive home from school. It’s the last hundred pages of Harry Potter, turning the pages ever more slowly. It’s the last ten minutes of a movie that became your favorite while you were watching it—the aching for more.
If we want to drink this life down, if we want to live fully, we will have to become masters of letting go.
Several weeks ago, I walked into my sons’ bedroom to turn off their reading lights. My eight-year-old son Aidan placed his book down next to him and rolled over to face me. His eyes shimmered and he raised the book in way of explanation: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
Through a tight throat, he tried to explain his tears. He told me it was the story of a doll that repeatedly finds a loving home and each time, through random circumstance, is abandoned to wait for love all over again.
As I searched for the words to comfort him—a way to soothe him without devastating him—Aidan spoke for both of us.
“Daddy, I guess if I want to love people, I’m going to have to be okay with letting them go.”
If I want to love, I have to be okay with letting go.
If I want to live, I have to be okay with letting go.
If I want my heart to be ruptured by beauty and wonder, I have to be okay with letting go.
Because we can’t wait until our beautiful things have come to an end to do the hard work of letting go. If we wait, our dread of the end may work its way backward into our hearts, corrupting the beauty that is here now.
Instead, the hard work of surrender—of embracing the end of the embrace—must come first. Only then will we be truly free to fall head-over-heels in love with this moment or that person or a world overflowing with wonder.
Perhaps, as the world eases into its winter slumber, this season is reminding us to let go first so we can truly lose ourselves in the beauty.
And I think there might be grace in the reminder—this season of autumnal color also reminds us the most beautiful things can give way to the most barren things without despair. Because we’re in orbit, and fresh life is only months away and all things will be made new.
Perhaps this dying season is meant to ease the letting go, with the reminder that every death is followed by a resurrection. And every loss is pregnant with the seed of redemption.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.