Let It Be

Lonely by Robert Kraft

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.


20 thoughts on “Let It Be

  1. Such an important post, Lisa, and I completely understand the inability to just let things be — globally and personally. It’s very hard for me to close my eyes to the world’s injustices and inhumanities. I also worry and fear (almost always) unnecessarily about things in my own and my children’s lives. Both my children have grown up to be deep thinking, compassionate and involved world citizens — which is wonderful. And my daughter is a woman of science — which is fabulous, too. But I also wish for them (and me) some peace of mind and happiness and the satisfcation with simply being and living a good life.

    • Hi Julia,
      You are right, and I think I didn’t mention that important aspect enough — the Zen time of acceptance and peace of mind that’s so important. Thanks for the reminder and the feedback. I always love to hear about your children’s adventures and your perspective as you watch them continue to grow as young adults. (Go girl scientists!)

  2. So powerful . . . good food for thought too as I spend the next few days in prayer for the Jewish New Year. Thanks for this.

  3. So sobering and beautiful Lisa. I share your conviction about the power and importance of words for us individually and communally. In her Nobel Lecture, Toni Morrison says, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language and that may be the measure of our lives.” Your words measure the challenges and joys so beautifully. Keep them coming!

    • Sharon,
      It’s always so good to “see” you! I love the Morrison quote — thank you. If anyone knows beauty and power in language, it’s you.

  4. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Lisa. Lately I’ve been trying to let go of anger as my motivator– trying to hold onto the idea that I can work to change the world, work toward what should be, without being resentful about what is. It ain’t easy.

    • Yes, I think there’s a difference between anger and a sort of spunky “fired-up-ness”. Anger doesn’t work well as a motivator. It’s too consuming. I try for the sparky spunks instead, but you are right — not always easy.

  5. Howard Zinn said “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” And so, we act according to our convictions – not always the easiest way, not always the clearest path. My parenting guru, Scott Noelle, and my mindfulness guru Jon Cabat-Zinn (yes, in fact, he is Howard’s son) both emphasize that acceptance doesn’t mean that you don’t try to change what is not right, or not healthy, or not working for you. That, to me, is the heart of “Let It Be.” Acceptance. And the person who has helped me the most of late with the notion of Acceptance (besides my partner and my children everyday, whether I like it or not), is Eckhart Tolle. If you haven’t read his work, I highly recommend him; either The New Earth or The Power of Now.

  6. Lisa,
    So thought-provoking. So powerful. So inspirational. So challenging, in the best sense of the word – challenging my assumptions about how to live in this world. You have given me much to think about. Thank you.

  7. To paraphraseThoreau when he was asked why he did not contribute moneys to any special causes he replied. ” Many more people will benefit from my kind, loveing, humanist acts than any amount of money I can give.” I do the best I can for now and turn over the results to nature. I, or any one else for that matter, can not force any one to change,, we can only influence them. If I cannot take care of my self first I assuredly cannot take care of any one else. You are a wonderfully talented writer who has the ability to influenc many, many people. We are not Godesses or Gods, Super Women or Men. Do’nt make yourself crazy and you will influence many more people in the future.. You might also want to investigate why some people are so commited to helping and feeling so desperately inadeuate when they are in fact, very adequate. Been there and sometimes feel compelled to go back there.. Thank you for requesting my comment. Sincerely. Fred. PS. I’m not a writer, but I am a very sensitive and can relate.

    • Fred,
      What a wonderful thought from Thoreau. I so appreciate your ideas here. I especially love your emphasis on spreading kindness. Thank you!

  8. WOW! When you told me you were writing this piece, I didn’t realize how powerful it was going to be! Every time I read your any of your writings (blogs, essays, stories, and novel), I am blown away at how you weave so many what-seem-to-be-unrelated ideas into a cohesive, powerful, and thoughtful piece of writing that is often humorous and most definitely thought-provoking.

    You know that I am the king of “letting it be” which, as you notice, is not always the best thing to do but often the easiest. As always, you have given me much to ponder, but I do know this…I will be right next to you as we empower our daughters to be strong, positive, and passionate so that they can deal with whatever life may put in their way…and be happy.

  9. How can I not respond to an entry that begins with a Beatles lyric? The short answer is that I can’t. I guess for me “Let It Be” has always focused on not letting an intolerable situation go, not on the complacency or just giving up, but more on the idea of stepping outside yourself, of seeking a greater wisdom. Paul looks to “Mother Mary” for “words of wisdom”, but the source of that solace or insight might just as well be Thoreau or Morrison (Toni or Jim) or the quiet of a mountaintop to which you’ve just hiked. Having just come down from the buzz I get from Mountain Day, I am reflecting on just how much the climb gives me: I feel so small in the world and yet so important and so much a part of things, so connected. I think the idea of “letting it be” is more about stepping back, taking stock in what you do have that’s positive, and using that as a motivation to move forward instead of getting trapped in an endless eddy of negativity. You’re not to “let it be” forever, just for a minute. I mean, let’s not forget that the boys from Liverpool also sang about “the Revolution” and that “we’re all doing what we can”. It’s the way to stop the wallow, I suppose, and I think it is what gives us the moment of peace and regrouping that allows us to press on and “rage against the dying of the light”, so to speak. And, as a woman in science, trust me when I say it’s sort of empowering to be in the minority at times. You just love the skin you’re in and do what you love. And speaking of love, I loved this entry, Mama. Now let’s go for coffee- I’ve got a freebie at the bookstore! XOXO

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