When my partner and I chose to let go of our relationship late last year, the decision wasn’t an easy one.
It came after months of struggle and hope, of taking time apart and forging forward with a love neither of us wanted to lose. Even on the verge of saying goodbye, it was that love which clasped us close, literally and figuratively, as we spent our last hours before he left savoring a tender togetherness, the small, ribboned joys of morning carrying us to a final embrace at the door.
Though walking away was the most painful decision I’ve ever had to make, I know it was the right one. In the five months since, the shifting currents of my life seem only to affirm that.
It’s not that I’m on a wildly different path than the one I’d walked when I was with him. Much in fact looks the same. But when I think of all the opportunities that have come to me since that agonizing goodbye, there’s been little room to dwell on regret, to keep turning over a life of what if’s while trawling the horizon for a glimpse of what could be.
That I have always led a full life has been, in many ways, my salvation. Though my ex was a large and essential part of that life, he wasn’t its center. And so my friends, my family, my passions and hobbies and so many things that fulfill me were all there, as they had been all along, to cushion the blow of aching loss and loneliness.
When someone asked me last month if I were doing as well as I sounded, I realized, with a jolt, I really was; I could even say I was happy. That doesn’t mean my heart isn’t broken. The truth is, I miss my once-beloved every day. Sometimes, the most mundane moments — putting the plastics on the top rack of the dishwasher, where he preferred them, opening a new bag of coffee, noting the line at the ice cream shop we frequented — are rifled by a longing so intense, it’s as if he left only yesterday. And there are times I would give anything to lean into the sound of his voice, to hear of the moving pieces in his life and share the news of mine.
But even in my grief, I have felt an expansive energy, the sense of spaces opening up to allow for something more.
When I traveled to New York City with my girlfriends in February, it was because I said yes to a weekend of fun and empowerment that would usually cost thousands of dollars but for some reason was being offered just this once for free. The email announcing it, which came via a newsletter I usually delete without reading, couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. Though I could easily have mustered a dozen excuses not to go, I leaped at the chance and returned exhilarated and connected to a natural effervescence in stark contrast to what I expected to feel one month after a breakup.
The word “yes” has become my mantra. In the last few months, I’ve said yes to more opportunities that I would ordinarily turn down or sacrifice to a busy schedule than ever before. Some, like the gala fundraisers I’ve attended, have been pure fun — though definitely out of the realm of what I do for entertainment.
Others have been too good to pass up, like Santa Cruz, California, poet Ellen Bass’ appearance on the East Coast. I’d taken a week-long writing workshop with Bass in Mallorca four years ago. Though she also offers workshops in the U.S., they are often on the West Coast, so when I saw she’d be holding a one-day course in Cherry Hill with longtime friend Dan Gottlieb, host of WHYY’s “Voices in the Family,” I immediately signed up. The chance to work with her again materialized like a trumpeting flag to wave me down the path I’d dared to walk.
Some invitations have inspired me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Serving as guest speaker for the students at Eastern University Academy Charter School during Black History Month, agreeing to emcee a cosmetics event for Bloomingdale’s at the Willow Grove Park mall — those were engagements I almost declined, the mere thought of doing them causing ripples of anxiety.
Though as a wedding officiant I am routinely “performing” before anywhere from 50 to 250 people, the spotlight is on the couple, which makes me comfortable doing something ordinarily discomforting — public speaking. Yet I decided those events came to me for a reason so I swallowed my nerves and dove in. While I was invited to inspire the kids at the charter school, I was the one who walked away feeling blessed and renewed by their commitment to follow their passion, and the Bloomingdale’s Makeup Date — well, most of the staff assumed I hosted such events all the time.
Last year, during a girls night dinner, as I pondered whether to leave or stay in my relationship, a friend wondered how one could ever know with certainty that either choice was right. I told her, for all my confusion, I would know when I knew. For no matter how difficult the decision, if I felt lighter when it was made, or if joy, faint but palpable, undercut its bitter weight, then I would have served my ultimate good.
And life, rushing forward to meet me with bold celebration and unexpected magic, has affirmed the rightness of letting go time and again. Even amid the sorrow, even on days I resist moving forward, it reminds me that to venture into the darkness is to also know the sweetness of emerging, and the light of an aliveness no other freedom can bring.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times