Are you letting yourself go?
By “letting go” I do not mean the playful abandon suggested by Michael Jackson when he sings: “Relax your mind. Lay back and groove with mine.” Nor the righteous path pointed to by philosopher Lao Tzu when he says “the world is won by letting go.”
I’m talking about allowing oneself and one’s life to crumble and fall: Letting age and the passing of time do what they do naturally without raging against the graying of hair, the packing on of pounds, the mounting household mess, the slowly percolating loneliness.
For a classic example of letting oneself go, I recommend the Sayles’s documentary “Grey Gardens” in which charmingly spaced-out socialite Little Edie Bouvier Beale (pictured above) sports dramatic headscarves and turbans fashioned from sweaters, sings “People Will Say We’re In Love” in a tremulous soprano, and feeds Wonder Bread to raccoons that have taken up residence in her crumbling mansion.
As a single mother ensconced in a mostly empty nest, I contemplate the free fall into disarray on a daily basis. If I have no one to feed except myself, why bother eating correctly? If I lack a love interest, why put myself together prettily each day? Why not throw on some Bag Lady Couture (usually sweat pants and an old quilted coat), leave my hair unbrushed and frighten a few pedestrians on my way to the market.
Without being able to depend on the traditional female obsessions of husband and child, and the sense of belonging that comes with loved ones, I frequently find myself feeling quite worthless.
It’s ironic considering that I was a child of the 60s who came into womanhood swearing I would never be one of those disaffected housewives that went crazy in middle age. I vowed to have a career and never depend on love, family and traditional female roles to sustain me. I swore to my best friend that I would never be a menopausal “casualty.”
I had a career– two, in fact–which I pursued quite successfully from home after the birth of my child. I earned a master’s degree, worked at corporate jobs and developed many of my talents.
In my secret heart, however, I was a woman obsessed with relationships, domesticity, maternity and the men in my life.
From one perspective there was nothing wrong with this. I am mostly proud of my mothering, and look back fondly on my wedded domestic years.
The problem with the traditional female role to which I clung is that it is a fickle identity.
Classic femininity gives you status in stages. When you are newly in love, newly married, or a mother of new young children, you are smothered in steamy warmth, saturated with a sense of belonging, intensely loved and needed. You feel beautiful, special and strong, buoyed by your web of sweet connections.
What’s more, each of these stages offers you a special place in a larger social world of couples, homemakers, playground goers, carpoolers and team moms. The simple bliss of birthday parties and halloween parades, parent open houses and baby showers, sporting events and sleepovers is so innocently absorbing, so cheerfully mundane, that you are lulled into a sense of permanence.
It is quite shocking, then, to discover that when you divorce, the social welcome is no longer as warm. The circle of couples and families tightens, leaving you more often than not on the chilly side. Add to that an empty nest and you find yourself falling from your sweet cloud as surely as a disgraced angel.
Can there be a silver lining to this?
I believe there is.
One finds it by considering that letting go of old roles and old habits can be a form of enlightenment. Yes, there definitely is a way of abandoning oneself that spells neglect, madness, sadness, depression, and a slow march into the arms of the reaper. On the other hand, if one lets go in a spiritual sense, submits to the will of one’s Higher Power, allows oneself to fall trustingly into the arms of the Universe, the experience can be blissful.
In my newly lost and lacking state, I have tried experimenting with the spiritual aspects of emptiness. I have begun to trust the Universe enough to send out a sly prayer or two for a new path to love and life. Slowly, uncertainly, as time passes I am beginning to have faith that my prayers will be answered. The way ahead looks promising.