How To Be Courageous: What I learned from letting go
My parents collected coffee mugs. Lots of them. For decades, everywhere they went in the world, from Topeka, Kansas to the Topkapi Palace they found a mug emblazoned with the name of their point of destination and brought it home, where it sat on a shelf, testament to their lifelong love of travel and their curiosity about the world.
I inherited their love of distant places. And their penchant for adventure.
And when they passed away, I also inherited their mug collection.
When I first brought the mugs into my home (and there were boxes of them!) I had every intention of displaying them. I imagined that I would make special shelves for them in my kitchen and I would show them to my children. I would talk to them about all the places that Papa and Grandma Ruth had traveled, and they would delight in their grandparents’ sense of fun and adventure. It would be my way of teaching them something important about the grandparents whom they lost too early to ever truly know.
But my intentions, pure and loving as they were, never came to pass. The boxes sat in storage for five years, until at the tail end of a year-long attempt to declutter and simplify our home in 2010, I came across them again.
Now, the decluttering was truly soul-cleansing. I decided I would only keep the things that were either regularly useful or that really made me happy. And after months of asking my possessions whether they had recently fulfilled their promise of being useful or making me feel happy, I found myself with piles upon piles of possessions that screamed the words “yard sale” to me. And I was ready to release them into the world.
All except the mugs.
Those mugs! I just couldn’t bring myself to let them go. Every time I thought of giving them away, I felt a sinking fear. But what was this fear? Where was its source? After asking myself these questions again and again, I came to an answer.
I am afraid of losing my parents. Again.
When they passed away, I thought , I lost their physical presence. If I give away these mugs, perhaps I will lose their memory as well. And then they will be lost to me completely.
So I found a place in my heart, a place where I could feel my parents’ love alive within me and I told them: I am afraid. I am afraid of losing the two you of you forever.
And I heard my mother laugh. Don’t be silly. Our memory and our love are not in those mugs. We are right here in your heart. We speak through your voice. We touch the world through your hands. We will always be here. And we are not just in your heart, we are in the hearts of your children, because you have passed our love along to them. Let the mugs go. Let someone else use them. Besides, I hate to see a good mug go to waste.
And so I opened up the boxes. And I unwrapped each of the mugs and I carried them out to the yard sale. One by one, I saw customers find a mug that suited their fancy. They gave me a few coins and off they went, smiling. And I saw my parents’ love of travel and curiosity about the world walk down the street with them. I smiled, knowing that in the morning they would pour their coffee or their tea into that mug and they would wrap their hands around its warmth, never really knowing that some of that warmth came from the lives of two people they would never know, but who go on touching the world all the same.
And with each mug that left my yard, I felt even more my parents’ love for me thriving in my heart.
There. You see? I heard my mother say, Look how happy they are. And aren’t you happy for them? Everyone needs a good mug, you know.
Yes, Mom. You are right, I thought with a grin. As always.
So now my parents’ mugs are gone. But their memory still lives with me. I feel their presence now even more than I ever did before. Now that I no longer see their memory in their belongings, I see it shining in my heart and in the hearts of the people I have passed that love on to.
If there is one lesson I wish to remember and to pass on this year, it is to have the courage to let go of the possessions that we believe contain memories. Because sometimes in letting go of the possessions, we are able to receive an even greater gift, the gift of living memory that resides in the heart.