The Beatles’ “Let It Be” is one of my favorite songs. I’m just no good at living it.
Somewhere along the road, I missed the turnoff where they handed out “everything will be okay” energy. You know, confidence. Certitude. Faith.
I am a world-class inventor of catastrophes. I can disassemble happiness in thirty seconds or less. The imagination that fuels my writing, that is a stillpoint of grace in nearly every way, can also burn my universe to a char without compunction.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” offers me no consolation, no guiding limits. I have “the worst” down to a science, somewhere between the microscopy of fractals and the radicalism of chaos theory, but without the necessary comfort of scientific principles. My imagination is a free-for-all, a free-fall, a vertiginous collapse. I am very, very good at fear.
Lovely lyrics only go so far. Sometimes there are no words of wisdom, whispered or shouted, cajoled or invented. Sometimes, I am the brokenhearted, the blind. Sometimes, I have no answers, no farsighted glance into the promised shine of tomorrow, the backhand perspective, the inhalation of serenity.
I know too well the ways in which a path can snap and buckle, sinkholes interrupt. I have read too much, perhaps, and broken too often as well.
Take this, for example: At Treblinka, the death runs were often slick with mud. A false railroad station hid the fire pits where Nazis threw those too sick or too old to run naked between barbed wire fences to the gas chambers, the crematoria. I know that sometimes their timing was poor, and the women in the runs reached the gas chambers in time to hear the deaths of their husbands, fathers, sons. I know that the guards, the soldiers threw the smallest children in on top, to die on the raised hands of those below them.
I know the common injunction to leave the past behind, to move on, let it go. Let it be. And I know that, fifty years after the Holocaust, nearly a million people died during the Rwandan genocide as the world “moved on”.
We put this knowing aside because it is simply too much, too heavy, too painful. We cannot live in the midst of it.
But, it’s still there.
And we still have to live.
The Beatles offer music as a consolation. We all have something — a passion, a truth to hold. I have my husband, my children, words. For me, it’s stories that save us, in all their incarnations and malformations and eruptions. Stories have always pulled me through, and my faith in stories, in the redemptive power of narrative, in our ability to tell and retell ourselves, our lives, our memories, is certainly what led me into writing. The power to tell is, of course, the power to shape. The power to imagine something other, something better.
Even so, there are moments we cannot let be because they swallow us whole and there we are, in the gut of loss, enduring. I am fairly adept at endurance. Not patience. Not faith, necessarily. But endurance. Stubbornness. Sometimes, it is enough. Sometimes, I can let that be.
I don’t think that’s exactly what the Beatles meant though, or what we mean when we celebrate the song. The lyrics, the soaring rifts, they call for something else, something wider than just holding on. Within faith, there is transformation. True faith, not simply religion but an abiding belief in something greater than we are, has the power to make us better than ourselves. That, I think, is what the Beatles intended.
Still, endurance is no small thing. In the places where faith utterly fails, it can be the difference between sinking and surviving, between letting go and holding on. And I guess that is the core of my trouble with The Beatles, my ultimate petty gripe. In a world that can imagine the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide, child sex slavery and 9/11 and Darfur, sometimes letting it be is the worst that we can do.
Sometimes, nothing beats a strong grip and powerful lungs. Sometimes, we have to fight our way to faith so that we can stand on top of it, reaching further. For that, we need imagination, sparks of reinvention. We need stories, in all their complications and ferocity.
I would rather reinvent the world than simply let it be, and I’m fine with the requisite charge of idealism. Isn’t that what storytelling is, in any case? Having the nerve to recreate the here, the now, the possible and maybe?
“Let it Be” offers solace in the tender heart of grief, no small or simple thing. But we cannot stay in grief. We cannot live there. We cannot simply let it be. Moving out, moving on, we shed skins, we turn the page. We choose another path. Walking that path demands the pull of muscle, the fortitude of bone, the grit of sweat and sinew.
And so, with that in mind, I will teach my daughters to fight back against anything and anyone who tries to make them small. I will foster their love of math and science in a world that equates both disciplines with masculinity. I will try and fail and try again to step beyond my fears. I will question. Everything. I will not forget, nor put the past behind me.
I will write. I will shape stories, and memories, and lives. I will invent and imagine and create.
I will tell.
I will love the gift of solace, but know that there is more. And I hope, “in times of trouble”, that I will not let it be.
What are your thoughts on endurance and faith? On choosing new paths? On letting it be? Please share. Thank you.