When to Let Go

Love is taking a few steps backward, maybe even more, to give way to the happiness of the person you love.

Winnie the Pooh

I had to let go. 

I didn’t want to. After all, the minute that I let go of the back of her bicycle, it was a certainty that she would fall. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Eventually she would encounter a turn that was too much for her; an obstacle that she didn’t know how to ride over, around, under, or through; a hill; a dead-end; the parking lot…and in that moment she would look back and see that I wasn’t there. See that I had let go. 

And she would fall. She would fall and get hurt and I would be too far away to stop it…too far away to get there in time to prevent it, even if I could see it coming before she did. Too far away to do anything but show up and help her to heal. 

But, I had to let go.

If I didn’t, she wouldn’t ever learn to ride. She wouldn’t learn the complexity of balancing herself even when doing so felt precarious…and exhilarating. If I didn’t let go, she wouldn’t learn the confidence that would inevitably come the moment that she realized that SHE could do it…that SHE could balance herself, for herself, by herself. That SHE could ride. If I didn’t let go, she would always be waiting for me to do what she would struggle to develop the confidence to do for herself; struggle to learn how truly amazing she is and how much she can overcome…how much she can thrive. 

And even if I wanted to hold on, to never let go so that she would always be safe, the simple truth was that no matter how fast I learned to run, I wouldn’t be able to keep up.

If I didn’t let go, she would be held back by me. Perpetually. She wouldn’t be able to soar…to fly down the hills and around the turns, to go riding with friends and experience the wonder that is to set your own course and direction…all while reveling in the feeling of the wind against her face as she rode with confidence…and hope. Even if I’d wanted to,I wouldn’t be able to keep up, and if I didn’t, she would always be dragging me. I would be slowing her down; holding her back. Maybe not today, but soon.

So I let go. 

I let go and Megan fell. Not immediately, but soon enough. I was sprinting to her before she went down…I was a fool! What was I thinking? I had let go too soon…TOO SOON! She wasn’t ready. She had fallen. I couldn’t prevent it. It was my fault. Next time….if there was a next time…I wouldn’t let go. 

Then something amazing happened. 

Before I could even reach her, Megan had picked herself up off of the ground. She had grabbed her bike, set it before her, climbed into the seat, and looked behind her. Right at me. Waiting for me to arrive. 

“Let’s try again, Daddy.”

The image of that day faded from my mind’s eye last Friday evening, as Kate and I walked out of Megan’s new apartment…her first apartment…for the first time. We had just moved her there that morning; had spent all day moving furniture and boxes, unpacking and setting things up. We had started at 6:30 that morning and were just leaving at 11:00 that evening with more to do the next day. We were leaving…and it was the first time that I would be leaving my daughter to sleep in her own home while I went somewhere else to go to bed. She was setting off on her own. Would she fall? Absolutely, and when she did I would be too far away to prevent it, even if I could see it coming before she did. There would be little more that I could do other than to arrive late and help her to heal. 

But…she would also soar. She would learn to balance herself, for herself…learn how truly amazing she is and how many obstacles she is capable of overcoming…how ready she is to thrive. She would explore and live and learn and grow; able to do so without anyone holding her back and slowing her down. 

As Kate and I walked out to our car for the drive home, I noticed a pain in my chest. Deep inside, something had started to hurt a bit. I’ve felt that pain before, but this time was a bit different. They’ve all been a bit different. 

“Are you okay?” Kate asked as we closed the car doors and prepared to back out of the parking space. 

“My heart is sore,” I said. “But it’s happy.”

The end of one era is also the beginning of another one. You cannot hold on to what has passed simply because you’re afraid of letting go. When you hold on to something for too long, you prevent those whom you love from having the opportunity to grow and learn, to discover just how ready they are to thrive. 

Let the people that you love have the freedom to explore life, to live life, without being slowed down or held back by your fears. When you do, they’ll certainly get hurt. Maybe not immediately, but eventually…but they’ll also learn a couple of things. 

They’ll learn that you’ll get there. Maybe not with enough time to prevent it from happening even if you saw it coming before they did. But you’ll get there; and when you arrive you’ll help them to heal. 

They’ll also learn that they can balance life for themselves, by themselves. They’ll discover how truly amazing they are and how many obstacles they can overcome. They’ll feel the wind in their hair as they develop the confidence that will take them to the discoveries they’ve yet to make. 

Often enough, the greatest gift that you can give is to let go when it is time to let go. Not because you’re ready for it, but because they are.

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