Monday Musings, Rest in Peace, What's Next...
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Letting go

A multitude of stories, experiences, and perspectives mix together in the rich stew we call life. We can revel in that stew, feasting on the wonder of it all. But paradoxically, in order to really live we have to let go of trying to control all that goes into the soup pot.

Yes, control issues have been on my mind in recent weeks.

When a colleague once told me that she was not engaging others on a particular project, the reason given was “I don’t trust them to do the job to the standard I want.” On one level her reasoning made sense to me. For years I battled the personal urge to be overprotective of everything from my work product to my schedule to my friendships. I still find myself slipping all too easily into old habits.

But thoughts on how much we actually control surfaced recently at the funeral for a treasured friend. Despite the fact that Jo wrote her own obituary (control issues, noted her family), the hundreds who gathered to celebrate her life most frequently shared stories of how she let go of the impulse to control when it mattered most in order to serve others and to simply enjoy life. She did it to the end, showing us not only how to live but how to die. Jo was fond of quoting poet Mary Oliver’s I Worried with its clear-eyed resolution:

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Letting go of control is hard. Really hard. With all the anxiety and pressure in today’s world, the tendency is to gather all we think we must do and hold on tight. But the fact is that we don’t have that much control. We may act as if we do, but our time will not stretch on indefinitely even though we work, plan, and live as if that’s the case. It is the desire to control, to try and ensure that our efforts will always be successful, that actually restricts us. When we open our eyes to how life really works — when we pay attention, in other words — we come to at least see, if not fully accept, the paradox of limitations. Only when we let go of the need to control do our lives become more productive, meaningful, and joyful. When we let go of the need to control, we can more easily accept — and even rejoice in — the life we are given. We open ourselves to seeing that our days are exceptional even when they are ordinary.

Jo built bridges between people. To do that, you have to give up some measure of control. When you put your trust in others and work at reconciliation and collaboration, you don’t get to make all the decisions. You lose the illusion of control. The chance exists that something won’t happen in the hoped for manner.

Yet there is a transformation that comes from letting go. Too many funerals are all about heavenly transactions, as if we think we’re still in control. Jo’s spoke, instead, to transformation. Hers, ours, and the worlds.

And what a funeral it was! We should all aspire to have such a wonderful sendoff. One where hundreds of family members, friends, and colleagues from most of the decades of your life make the effort to gather and celebrate your time in this world. Where there is a sublime cello solo to calm the spirit. Where there are plenty of tears, yes, but there is so much more laughter. Where a daughter gives a remembrance and everyone is sad that it couldn’t be longer. Where those speaking quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mary Oliver, Steven Charleston, Cornell West, the Buddha, and Loudon Wainwright III because those were the voices you listened to in life. Where your favorite brand of bourbon — good bourbon — is served at the reception.

In trying to hang on to control, we too often forget about what really matters. In life, the journey is much more important than the destination. Control is about power and certainty. Control is about trying to shape the destination you think you want.

Seeking, on the other hand, is a journey not of certainty but of mystery. Seeking brings transformation, as we come to live the only life we have more fully.

The job of cook — the one who puts all of life’s pieces together with a recipe often incomprehensible to us — is already taken. Seeking accepts this fact. Instead of attempting to control something outside our power, seeking permits us to revel in and savor the flood of zesty, bold, sturdy, and unpredictable flavors that feed our souls in life’s abundant and wondrous stew.

Here’s to you, Jo. Thanks for touching so many with your love during a life well lived. May you rest in peace.

More to come…


Image from Pixabay

This entry was posted in: Monday Musings, Rest in Peace, What's Next...


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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  1. Pingback: February observations | More to Come...

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