A personal essay on the struggle to let go by Isobel D'Arcy
Last year I took part in the annual and unholy pilgrimage that is ‘The Twelve Pubs of Christmas’. After Pub Number Seven, I had lost my voice and after Pub Number nine I was finding it difficult to locate my legs. Sadly that wasn’t the only thing I lost. Somewhere between several tipples, I had managed to mislay my mum’s jumper, which I had borrowed unbeknownst to her. Of course, this was no ordinary jumper. To my mum, this was of the highest sentimental value and was something she had treasured for years. My father had given it to her as a present in their first year of ‘courting’, a fact I failed to remember as I floated home that night from my pilgrimage legless and jumperless.
Having broken the news the following morning that the jumper was missing, I headed into town with said mum and embarked on what could only be described as a poorly-budgeted, Irish version of The Hangover. Only this time there was no lovable wolfpack in sight; rather a dishevelled daughter and her bereft mother traipsing from pub to pub, the former attempting to retrace the steps and stumbles of the previous night, the latter uttering things that mums don’t normally utter.
Rummaging through the ‘Lost and Found’ section of any establishment on Christmas Eve is a grim experience. Amid a haze of secondhand smoke, sweat and neglect, we sifted through mountains upon mountains of coats, scarves, gloves and the occasional pair of boxer shorts. “How do you manage to lose a pair of boxer shorts in a pub?” my mum asked the barman. He didn’t reply.
Alas, we never found the jumper. It turns out I had accidentally dropped it the previous night on Camden Street whilst attempting to hail a taxi home. In fact, my friends had spotted it on the ground but, unaware that it was mine, had left it behind. Wishing I had been a little less careless and a little more compos mentis, I wanted to block out the memory of the previous night by pretending it didn’t happen. I felt bad for my mum because I knew I couldn’t replace the jumper. And I knew I couldn’t undo the damage of the night before.
I later recounted the experience to a number of friends who were both amused and surprised that the mislaying of this jumper continued to be a source of self-flagellation to me before I went to sleep. They laughed when I informed them that I still searched the charity shops along Camden Street, hoping that some Good Samaritan might have handed it in. They couldn’t see how important this jumper was to my mum, and by extension, to me.
Some friends would try to offer the advice that “everything happens for a reason”. I used to admire people who could successfully take such advice on board. Yet no matter how hard I have tried it has never really worked for me. Perhaps everything does happen for a reason but sometimes the reason is that you were reckless and made a series of bad decisions. I question the benefit to be gained from sweeping regrets under the bed, trying to explain them away by saying “the universe meant it to happen”. Unless we address our ‘misgivings’ head-on, they turn into mental clutter. And keeping clutter is a way of distracting ourselves from dealing with the present.
I hoard clothes in my wardrobe. Often it is because of the memories they evoke: a pair of pink, faded Converse runners adorned with the doodles of my friends; the cowboy hat I wore in a school production of Oklahoma at the age of twelve. I envisage some potential use for them in the future. What if I have a daughter who would like to wear a pair of pink Converse runners with doodles, or what if she auditions for a part in Oklahoma? It’s a fine line between cherishing something and not knowing when it is time to let go.
Some months later I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mum when the memory of Christmas Eve resurfaced. Wallowing in a sea of angst my mental clutter was causing a dusty heaviness. She said she had forgotten about it. That I shouldn’t worry any more. So why did the regret still linger? Maybe in taking responsibility I could begin to let go of my regrets? This requires more than a sincere apology and a promise to be more careful. I needed to recognise th value of the things in my life, whether that be a piece of clothing or, more importantly, the person who is wearing it. I wasn’t just remorseful about losing the jumper; I had allowed myself get into such a state of disarray that losing it was the inevitable consequence.
“It’s a fine line between cherishing something and not knowing when it is time to let go.”
I had always thought myself immune to such careless behaviour. For the past ten years I have kept a diary in which I have fastidiously recorded both the tepid and tumultuous experiences that have come to define my adolescent and young adult life. I question whether what I thought to be an exercise in self-awareness was in fact an attempt at self-protection — a way of gaining clarity and closure on events that so often seemed out of my control. These meticulous and daily inscriptions were like the Converse runners and cowboy hat that cluttered my wardrobe, waiting patiently to be of some tangible use in the future. That is not to say that absolving yourself of responsibility and simply ‘living in the moment’ is the answer. You may only live once but someone has to clear out your house once you’re gone! But constantly trying to prepare for every eventuality leaves no time from the present. You find yourself blindsided by the random moments that we have no control over. Entering a tailspin; convinced you are able to fix it, when we need to breath and let go. Of course, if anyone is charity shopping within the vicinity of Camden Street and happens upon a deep maroon sweater with mid-length sleeves and an elegant neckline, please do not hesitate to contact me.