Commusings: Letting Go by Jeff KrasnoAug 26, 2022
Hello Commune Community,
Life is full of goodbyes – temporary and permanent. You don’t have to be a parent to experience difficult valedictions but, if you are, then this time of year is particularly sodden with the tears of farewell. My daughter, Phoebe, is moving far, far away after eighteen years in loving residence.
I don’t want to over-dramatize it. She’ll be back for Christmas soon enough. But will we ever again share the same address? I don’t know. Today’s essay waxes alternately poetic and pathetic on the topic of letting go.
Here to commiserate at [email protected] and keeping it mostly real on IG @jeffkrasno.
In love, include me,
• • •
Eighteen years ago, to this very day, my eldest daughter, Phoebe, was born in the front room of our summer cottage on Long Island Sound. It was an unusually blustery day, the clouds low, dark and pregnant. Normally, the rickety old house emptied out on summer days. People found their air-conditioning by jumping off the end of the jetty and into the cold sea. But the day’s squall penned the family indoors.
Schuyler labored courageously as her mother, the midwife and I busied ourselves — hopping in and out of the inflatable birthing tub, pressing deeply into her lower back and boiling more water. In the adjoining room, the family, who had assembled for the birth, drank rum-dums and tapped their toes. Schuyler’s grandfather, Ellsworth, smoked his pipe and read the New York Times. His scruffy mutt, Molly, annoyingly yapped for doggie treats. Like an old Yankee, Ellsworth frugally doled them out.
As little Phoebe started to crown and delivery became imminent, the family spontaneously migrated from the den to the ersatz birthing room, forming a small gallery around the spectacle. Oblivious to her audience, Schuyler gave one last valiant push and Phoebe was expelled into the cruel and callous world. But there was no immediate rejoicing because Phoebe was blue. She couldn’t breathe.
Laura, our midwife, determinedly syringed her miniscule nostrils as the family held their breath. Finally, meconium cleared, Phoebe bookended her life with her first breath. Her pigmentation immediately pinked. With her inhale, everyone exhaled – except perhaps Ellsworth who stoically tugged on his pipe throughout the ordeal.
I know this sounds apocryphal – the kind of story only a father would tell, perhaps hyperbolized by a nip of whiskey – but I swear it’s true. And I have witnesses. In the moments after Phoebe’s birth, the sky broke, also turning pink, the blue fish jumped riotously and a rainbow arced from Connecticut across the sound to Long Island’s North Fork.
Over eighteen years later, plenty has changed. Schuyler and I started new businesses, published books, courses and plenty of essays. We provided Phoebe two horrible-adorable sisters. But life is as full of subtractions as it is of additions. Ellsworth passed on. Molly, too. We sold the old family cottage where Phoebe was born. We left our Brooklyn neighborhood for the warmer climes of the West. Over and over, we had to let go.
And, now, after eighteen years of reading bedtime fairy tales, shuttling to soccer games and dentist appointments and weeping at graduations, Schuyler and I poise ourselves for goodbye. Phoebe – all five feet, ten inches of her – is moving six thousand miles away.
This last month of protracted liminality has felt like a type of hospice. I remember when my grandmother had but a week to live. Voices became hushed and a gentleness softly blanketed every interaction. It’s like that now. Phoebe’s old life is passing away and she is letting go of the things she loves. She is letting go of her stalwart and tender boyfriend, Nicky. She is letting go of her thick-and-thin bestie, Quinn. She is letting go of her beloved sisters, Ondine and Micah. She is letting go of her parents, her home, her room, her rituals. It’s hard. This very minute as I scrawl these words, I hear her whimper through a stiff upper lip in her room as she packs.
I am coaching her the best I can, scribbling down Buddhist maxims and leaving them on her nightstand. Non-attachment is double-edged. While it’s never healthy to anchor one’s happiness in the possession of things, equanimity should never be confused with apathy. To be numb to life is a defense mechanism. To grieve is to love.
T. S. Eliot wrote, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” Indeed, there can be no beginning without an end. They define each other. Such is the yin yang of life and death, of construction and destruction. There is beauty in a life that is always falling apart, for that is nature’s course. She promises a spring with every winter.
I remind Phoebe of springtime’s first warm day – the exhilaration of it, the hopefulness of it. She stands on the precipice of a great adventure, of a warm April morning.
As I help her through this period, I feel like a psychiatrist with my own dementia because I, too, must let go. And it’s wretched. Perhaps I am confronting my own mortality as my progeny flies the coop. But, really, I just absolutely love having Phoebe here with me. I love when she poaches eggs and concocts strange Asian supper recipes. I love when she reads her loquacious essays aloud. I love when she squeezes my tennis elbow just so. I love when she lopes lazily around the house. On the weekends, she can be patently Taoist. She does nothing and leaves nothing undone. I hover outside her room, not eavesdropping, just checking on her, reconfirming my utility. But I know it’s time. My work is done. She is the tree I have planted that I will never sit under.
Nirvana literally translates as “blowing out.” It means exhaling. At a grandiose level, nirvana is letting go of the feeling that you are a separate self. On a quotidian basis, we practice by setting small things free. We surrender to a red light. We forgive our friends. We move on.
As I viscerally witnessed eighteen years ago, breath is life. But if you hold your breath, you lose it. If you don’t cling to it, it comes back. I pray the same is true for daughters.
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