“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem…” – A. A. Milne
It’s one of those beautiful fall days. The sun sits high and warm in a crystal clear-blue sky, the fresh scent of grass delicately dances in the air, and yellow-stained leaves twist and twirl in the gentle breeze, trying their hardest to not let go of the life-giving branches they’ve called home for the past few months.
But a slight crispness surrounds us, a sign that the snowstorm forecast for tomorrow has started to reach its icy fingers our way, ready and waiting to snatch up these remaining summer moments that have somehow stretched into October.
Wanting to soak up that warm sun before it’s finally stolen away, we decide the afternoon would be best spent outside.
* * *
I’ve barely parked the car at the park when my daughter Zoey unbuckles her seatbelt.
“Can I get out?” she asks. She kicks her feet, watching the leather fringe on her new brown boots swish back and forth.
I nod my head and smile.
Zoey opens the car door, hops out, and takes off running. Surprisingly, the heft of her boots doesn’t seem to deter her: she zips across the park’s still vibrant green field, gracefully navigating between the leaves, acorns, and yellow and white dandelions that lay scattered under her feet.
My mom and I get out of the car and together we fall in step with one another, walking and watching Zoey run toward the playground.
Zoey’s footfall slows momentarily when she reaches sand, but it doesn’t stop her from stepping into it. She skips over to the playground and climbs up onto one of its metal platforms.
She turns back our way, her face full of jittery anticipation, and then, with as much patience as she can muster, she waits for us to reach her. When we finally catch up, she extends an arm—and then a finger—up above to the monkey bars that hang just out of reach above her.
“Can you help me?” she asks me eagerly.
It’s no surprise to me that Zoey has ended up here. Although she has a set of monkey bars she can play on at school, she knows I’ve deemed them off limits: They’re way too high for her tiny 3-foot frame, and the thought of her swinging from them gives me nothing but visions of a broken ankle or arm.
But whenever we’re at the playground together, she always begs for my help, knowing that since I’m there with her, I can provide the boost—and firm foundation—she needs to successfully cross them. Having me there makes the fear of falling and the risk of breaking a bone disappear.
I wrap my arms around Zoey’s waist and lift her up high. She grasps the bars with her hands, and I walk toward the other side, holding her tightly every step of the way. When we reach the end and I set her down, she does a little victory dance.
“Yay!” she cheers. “I did it! I’m getting stronger!”
I watch her happily make her way over to the slide, but then, shielding my eyes from the afternoon sun with my hand, I shift my gaze up toward the bars above me.
I think back to the last time I attempted the monkey bars. It had to have been when I was in middle school—the days when I was not only a cheerleader, but a gymnast as well, and my upper-body strength rivaled that of someone twice my age. They were the days where I would confidently school all the boys on the playground at recess, regaling them with how many push-ups, pull-ups, and back-flips I could do, and of course, showing them how many times I could go back and forth across the monkey bars.
“What do you think?” I ask out loud. “Do you think I can do it, too?”
“Try it!” is the answer the two of them give.
I consider this for a second and then reach up to grab the first bar. It is one of ten that I will need to cross. I hang there, knowing that if I want to move forward, I first need to release my grip. But I hesitate, not trusting my 30-something-year-old arms are strong enough to carry me across.
I hesitate, because there’s no one there waiting to catch me if I fall.
* * *
At my lowest point last year, I sat in the corner of Zoey’s room in the middle of the night, crying.
The midnight light that cut through the darkness illuminated the rise and fall of Zoey’s chest as she breathed gently in her sleep, and then, after it crossed her room, it found me, curled up on the floor, my arms wrapped around myself, my hands desperately clinging to my weary bones.
If someone had found me there in that moment of weakness, they probably would have tried their hardest to get me to speak, to tell them what was wrong. And had I decided to play along, I would have told them how scared I was—for Zoey’s future, for my future, for my health. I would have told them how the unknown paralyzed me. I would have told them how tired I was. I would have told them how I just wanted to feel like myself again. I would have told them how all the dreams I’d once had for myself had all but faded from my sight and how I didn’t know if I’d ever find them again. And I would have told them how all of these fears just kept holding me at this terrible, scary standstill, one I didn’t know how to escape from.
And if that someone had stuck around long enough to listen to my confessions, they would have most likely told me that I needed to stop letting my fear get the better of me.
But in that moment, I only had myself to answer to, and it was there, in that dark silence, that I decided that the only way things were going to get better was if I finally started loosening my grip on the way things were. Deep down, I knew that the only way I could start moving forward again was if I finally started letting go of anything, of something, of everything.
In that moment, I knew I was deciding to change the course of my life, and I knew this decision wasn’t just an option: It was a necessity.
* * *
Now, as I hang here, I think back to that sad, scary—and ultimately life-changing—night, and I think about how different everything is now. I think about how last year I probably wouldn’t have even considered trying to traverse these bars, and how I probably wouldn’t have been strong enough to do so even if I had tried. I think about how I’ve settled into a life where my happy days outweigh my sad ones. I think about how much I’ve grown and changed—all for the better. I think about how resilient and brave Zoey has been, and I think about how she has, in fact, flourished.
And I think about how all of this has happened because I finally made the decision to start letting go:
I let go of the things that were too heavy for me to carry anymore. I let go of the way I thought things should be. I let go of who I thought I needed to be. Of course, there have been times where I’ve fallen—and I still do from time to time—but even when that happens, I’ve learned that I can catch myself if and when I do fall. I’ve learned that hanging suspended in one place, making no effort to move forward, is a surefire way to let fear eat you up.
Because isn’t that what life really is? A lesson in letting go? Every single day, we have to learn a way to let go of something, whether it be a painful past, a broken dream, or a way of life we thought would be ours forever. Perhaps it’s a person you once loved, or a child you’re sending off to college, or a parent as they slip away into their final days.
Whether we’re standing at a critical crossroad or hanging from a monkey bar, at some point or another, we have to loosen our grip and let go. The wonder of it all is that when we do decide to take this profound risk, a space opens up. And it is in that space where we’re finally able to create a series of new beginnings. In that space, we’re finally in a place where we’re able to move forward.
* * *
“Come on, Mommy,” Zoey calls out from her perch on top of the slide. “I know you can do it!”
Her words are the encouragement I need: Deciding to not let fear get the better of me, I uncurl my fingers from the metal bar, and then, before I can change my mind, I let go.
And even though my movement is far from graceful, I keep putting one hand in front of the other, grabbing one bar after another. I miraculously make my way to the end. By the time I let go of the last bar, I’m out of breath and my arms are burning, but I manage to swing myself forward and land on the platform that is there, ready and waiting for my dismount.
I straighten up triumphantly to the sound of Zoey clapping in the distance. I can’t believe I just did that, I think to myself. But I catch myself before I say the thought out loud, and instead, I turn back to look at those monkey bars, the ones I’ve just confidently crossed the way I used to when I was much younger. And even though I’m no longer the person I was back then, I realize some things about me have always remained the same: I was a fighter then, and I’m still a fighter now.
So I’m standing here, proud and confident on this beautiful day, looking back at those monkey bars, and I’m no longer thinking about how I can’t believe what I just did.
I’m thinking about just how far I’ve come.
Let me know: What can you start letting go of? What lessons have you learned by loosening your grip on something that you need to move past?
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.