The essence of letting go is learning to dispense with nostalgia. Our memories change as we age, and it is impossible, anyway, to remember something exactly as it happened. In fact, no event is the same for any two people, especially as they think they remember it. I can go to a party with a friend, and each of us will experience that event in a different way. We carry different sorts of baggage, and we will certainly not remember the event in the same way.
When we hang on to events in our past, we tend to romanticize them, and they become something fanciful, even fiction. I have learned to let go of my past lives (and they were many), because they no longer belong to me. I am not the person I was when I designed and manufactured leather clothing for women and men in my shop on Grant Avenue in San Francisco. I am not the person I was when I taught at the University of California, Berkeley Extension, and created the Certificate Program for TESOL. It doesn’t matter; I have created my memories of those lives in my book, RHODA: HER FIRST NINETY YEARS, and expanded parts of them in my second book, AFTER NINETY, WHAT. I can easily let go of those memories; I don’t need them any more.
Even if you haven’t written your memories or kept a diary or sketchbook, it is still possible for you to say, “Enough already.” I don’t need to keep reminding myself of the person I used to be.
I have recently moved from the small garden apartment I lived in for thirty years to an assisted living facility. The transition has been easy. I recently had a fall and fractured my left hip. It wasn’t replaced, but it was repaired. While I was in the hospital and rehab, I had my small, one-room apartment repainted, and the room was bare of pictures, books, nick-knacks, and all the things that made it a special space. It was suddenly not my familiar abode, and somehow that made it easier to move out. It was almost like a message from the Universe!
I had had a few problems in rehab, and needed someone with me all the time. This became a heavy economic burden, and finding a cozy place to move to had become a better and better idea. My son, daughter-in-law and I found a lovely, small place in the center of Berkeley, and my friends rallied around to help me get rid of detritus and to help me pack. I am fortunate to have a strong support group of loyal friends.
I started throwing out an accumulation of lesson plans, old articles, old photos, with no regrets whatsoever. I was able to take most of the furniture from my small garden apartment, and the paintings that make the room vibrant.
Letting go has been a liberating experience. I don’t remember whether it was a Hindu friend or a Japanese Buddhist friend who told me that when you give away, you gain more than you lose, and I have found that to be true. There is an opening in my heart and mind that welcomes new ideas, new people, a new environment. At ninety-four, I feel I am entering a new phase of my life.
My life has been a series of changes. I changed the direction of my careers and my life every twelve years (following the Chinese calendar), and I had decided that I was entering the final twelve years of my life. That current phase will end in 2014, when I am ninety-six, and I fully expected to die that year. Now I find myself with an entirely different mind-set.
I have been living in my new place for just five days, and already I have met several Berkeley characters I would never have met in my old environment. There is a left-wing writer named Gene Marine, a renowned professor of theoretical physics from UC Berkeley, who is still doing research, and goes into the Berkeley Lab every week. There’s a Holocaust survivor, and a woman who worked for the OWI in San Francisco the same year I worked for the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C., during WWII. They have all sorts of programmed activities, like a walking club and a Scrabble club. It will take determination not to get too involved!
My son has taken over all my financial records, and I have no responsibilities except to stay alive and keep healing. This is a regime I can definitely live with, and I recommend that, when you get to the point where the stress of making decisions and fending for yourself gets burdensome, get out of the way, and LET GO!