By Dana Gornall
The office always had a strong chemical smell to it—possibly ammonia.
I’m not sure what the scent was, but I do remember sitting in the waiting room feeling my hands sweat a little and butterflies in my stomach. As a frequently ill child, I came to this office once a month to receive immunity-boosting injections. I would sit in one chair and my mother would sit in another waiting for a nurse to open the door and call me back. I would get up—always a little nervous—with a brave face (or so I imagined) and scale the carpeted, long hallway toward an office in the back.
The nurse would make small talk about how school was going or the weather; I would nod and respond with a smile.
The cold cotton against my skin made me jump a little and soon I’d feel the sharp sting of the needle plunge. I would bite my lip and wince, but try my best not to cry. If I didn’t cry, my mother would take me for a comic book when we were finished.
I wanted so much to be strong.
I’m not clear why this idea of being strong has always been so important to me or how I got it into my head, but it seems to be threaded into the core of my being. Maybe it isn’t so much strength, but sheer stubbornness that keeps me facing forward or standing back up.
Maybe it’s the fear that letting go means losing control.
Letting go is such a popular platitude right now. One might even say it is trending. It seems everywhere I turn, I see quotes and scraps of poetry plastered on digital paper backgrounds that profess the necessities of letting go. Being attached to anything, whether it be a person, a thing, an idea, a goal, is a bad thing. Attachment brings suffering. Suffering is optional, therefore we shouldn’t get attached.
To release, to let go, provides freedom.
These words are easy to say and quote and write pretty pieces of poetry about. So simple to post or meme over a faded picture of a sunset or sunrise, but with the full blown meaning that lies behind those words, rests a heaviness.
Letting go—to truly loosen a grasp on the familiar, the known, the comfortable—is terrifying.
I’ve let go of so many things in my life so far. Once attached to a home that I called mine, walls that I had painted and floors I helped line with carpet, I walked away without looking back. A garden I had planted full of lavender, chamomile and lemon balm by a back door now greets somebody else, or maybe has been dug up and covered over. Jobs I had put so many hours and days into I have left behind, and connections I had formed have been severed.
I’ve let go of people, either willingly or unwillingly. The pasted on pictures of who I thought they were or of who they really were—sometimes the difference being quite far and wide—have slipped away once I finally loosened my grips on them and scattered to the wind in my goodbyes.
I’ve let go of all of the people I thought I was at one time or another. The faces I have tried on and worn for awhile, the ideas of all the things I thought were true that I had written down and held over my head, have been set down in search of more. I’ve let go of stars I have gazed at for what seemed like a thousand nights, allowing them to fall from the sky in a fiery blaze, disintegrating into darkness.
The letting go can be painful, and so in the attachment, the holding on, I allow myself to wait in that place of unreadiness.
In the attachment I have been able to wall myself off from feeling this way or that. I can latch onto a word or a thought and push away everything else. I can surround myself with all of the things I grasp, so much until I have blocked out all of the breathable spaces and feel completely protected.
It seems in the attachment, I can gather strength.
Life has suffering and suffering is caused by what we cling to. I repeat this to myself on dark, sleepless nights when my eyes refuse to sink into the cushion of a dream. But I am stubborn, and sometimes afraid.
I’ve branded that memory—that strong chemical odor of the waiting room, the carpeted hallway that seemed to stretch so far down, the feel of the cold cotton on my skin, and most of all, the wince on my face that pressed back my tears. It rests quietly into the outer corner of my mind and I bring it out in times when I need to be strong. Maybe someday I won’t need it any longer and I can loosen my grip, letting it fall away in a fiery blaze.
For now, I will find a little balance in my attachment. I will release and hold on, cling and set free. I will let myself slowly give in to the chaos, bit by bit and put on a brave face (or so I imagine).
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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