Twenty Lessons on Letting Go and New Beginnings

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

new beginnings

After living in my childhood home for the past 35 years, I finally sold it. Leaving the home granny had brought me to as an infant was bittersweet. Since her death more than two years ago, I have vacillated countless times between a resolve to die there of old age with my collected stray cats and the urge to walk out and leave it for the squatters to ramble through. Well-meaning friends offered sage advice in my times of indecision.

“Girl, you own real estate! In New York! Shoot, you know how many people wish they had a house? In New York?”

“You’ll regret it if you sell it.”

“It’s an investment. You shouldn’t sell.”

“It’s a money pit. The needed repairs will bankrupt you.”

“You need to start over.”

“You should fix it up and then sell it so you can get more money for it.”

In the end, my decision to sell was as much an emotional one, as it was an economic one. Moving was a necessary step in helping me to heal, move on, and create my own life and happiness.

The process of moving also required me to finally sift through 3 floors and more than 3 generations of stuff, some of which I never knew existed. My house was a treasure trove of memories, and I was constantly getting sidetracked by new discoveries as I tried to beat the real estate closing clock. I cried ugly-girl, anti-sexy, headache-inducing tears as I read letters my estranged mother had written to my grandmother as a teenager, a college freshman a few months after my birth, and a prison inmate years later. It was the first time I saw my mother as someone other than a woman who had chosen drugs and her own whims over being a mother and daughter. Like me and my grandmother, she was a little girl who wanted to be loved by her mother. I laughed as I read a letter granny’s twin brother had written to her more than fifty years ago, in which he lamented, “I don’t have too much to say, because I have so many problems I can’t think straight.” Nestled between pictures and old Hallmark cards was a letter written by one of granny’s friends, asking granny for forgiveness about some perceived slight. In retrospect, the disagreement seemed trivial and this friend would later become part of the village that helped me care for granny after she developed Alzheimer’s. In another letter to granny, her best friend wrote that she had enclosed money to thank granny for her help with something. I also found a letter granny had written to the neighbor who used to stand in his backyard and cuss God out when it rained, in which granny commented that she had enclosed money in appreciation for his kindness during her illness. I discovered a list granny had written of the more than fifteen places she’d lived in since moving to New York over fifty years ago. And here I was complaining about moving for the first time in my life. Granny’s journal from 1969 reminded me that she had bestowed me with her writer’s spirit and I wondered whether our shared struggles were embedded in our DNA. A church booklet that contained a picture of a teenage minister we now know as civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, a fellow church parishioner of granny’s years ago, made me smile. Pictures of the great-grandmother I never knew made me wonder what she was like. Granny’s old bills and bank account statements from as far back as 1978 made me grateful for electronic billing and my job. I found granny’s fifth-grade report card and a school picture. She even looked like a granny at 10 years old. I wondered what the non-smiling, tough-looking little girl was thinking. I wondered if she felt loved. These items gave me a greater insight into myself, my mother and my grandmother and taught me that there is so much I do not know about our stories. Had I not decided to move, I never would have taken the time to sort through these things, always promising to get around to it “someday.” As I examined, catalogued, photographed, and packed granny’s belongings, I realized:

20. Letter writing is a lost art.

19. People in this world are very generous.

18. Granny was a hoarder (and so am I).

17. Change is necessary in order to move forward in life.

16. We are all flawed, vulnerable, and want to be loved.

15. If you take the first step, God will do the rest.

14. Paper is evil. Electronic statements and bill payment are divine.

13. Real friendships can survive misunderstandings and conflicts.

12. I am stronger than I thought.

11. Everyone has a story. Our story does not begin with us.

10. When in doubt, choose happiness.

9. It’s okay to want something different in life and to change course.

8. We are all imperfect and doing the best we can.

7. Be humbled by your elders’ struggles and grateful for their sacrifices.

6. Perspective begets compassion.

5. Letting go of some things allows you to discover and more fully embrace greater things.

4. Everything is about timing.

3. My picture of what happiness looks like is the only one that matters.

2. I am not 25 anymore and Epsom salt is my new best friend.

1. Everyone deserves to be happy. Even me.

Wednesday’s Word

We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects. –  Alexis de Tocqueville

Memory Mondays: Gangsta Granny

During my time in law school, granny used to meet me at the train station when I came home at night because she thought it was too dangerous for me to walk alone (late or not so late) at night. Whenever she was unable to meet me, she’d “walk me home” by talking to me on the telephone as I walked from the train station. Although her actions seemed a little extreme in my twenties, I was used to her overprotective ways. In junior high school, she’d wait with me at the bus stop every morning. “Granny, the bus stop is right across from the police station,” I often pled. “So? You can still get kidnapped from in front of the precinct,” she’d answer. When is the last time you heard of someone getting abducted right across the street from a police station? In high school, she spared me the embarrassment of her presence at the train station, but gave me a very early curfew. “School lets out at 3 o’clock, so you ought to be home by 3:30!” she’d tell me. By the time I reached law school, both she and I reverted back to junior high. She’d be standing by the stairs behind the token booth, wearing a tough look on her face – no smile and her lips poking out like a pouting child. She looked rather intimidating – or as intimidating as an elderly woman wearing a wig that’s seen better days and a long black oversized down feather-stuffed coat with her legs stretched apart and leaning on a cane can look. “Granny, you’re not afraid someone’s gonna try to  rob you,” I once asked her, thinking that her cane might make her a target to neighborhood thugs. “No,” she answered. “I’ll just start swinging my cane and speaking in tongues or talking to myself. They won’t mess with me cus they’ll think I’m crazy.” That made plenty of sense to me. No one ever messed with gangsta granny.

Wednesday’s Word

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
― Joseph Campbell

Wednesday’s Word

“We can either watch life from the sidelines, or actively participate . . . . Either we let self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy prevent us from realizing our potential, or embrace the fact that when we turn our attention away from ourselves, our potential is limitless.” – Christopher Reeve

On The Power of Experience

The determination to outwit one’s situation means that one has no models, only object lessons. – James Baldwin

All Aboard! Happiness Is a Journey

While rummaging through old papers today, I found this very inspiring note from Professor Paula Franzese, one of my favorite law school professors:

Dear Property Connoisseurs,

 Life will always be filled with challenges. It’s best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway. One of my favorite quotes, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, debts to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, and remember that time waits for no one . . . . .  

So STOP waiting until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you start your dream job, until you get married, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you are rich and famous, until you get a new home or car, until spring, until summer, until fall, until you die, to decide that there is no better time than right now to be HAPPY . . . . . HAPPINESS is a journey, not a destination.

Thought for the day:

                “Work like you don’t need the money,

                LOVE like you’ll never get hurt,

                And dance like there’s no one watching!”


What will you do TODAY to be HAPPY?     

Operation Clean House

Operation Clean House is in full effect. The bed in which granny’s home attendants slept is filled with more than a hundred books slated for donation, with four boxes of books scattered on the floor. It’s amazing how many books we’ve accumulated over the years. It’s time to start using the public library and buying more e-books. A friend suggested that I clean out one room at a time in order to avoid getting overwhelmed.  I’m still working on one hallway, and had to go take a nap to regroup. I finally bought a new shredder. Paper is the devil. Onward and upward!

Grannies Say the Darndest Things

Before Oprah or Dr. Phil, there was my Granny Poo.  Sometimes funny, other times sassy, she was a witty lady who always knew just what to say. She was full of wisdom and grace, and her words are a road map for life. A few days before she passed away, I sat in a recliner chair in her hospital room and made a list of all her funny and wise sayings. When she awoke the next morning, I stood beside her bed and read my list. “Granny, remember when you used to say,” I started off and then imitated her voice and gestures as I recited each quote. She looked up at me and smiled. It was the last time she ever really saw me and knew that I was there. The last time that there was any hint of recognition in her eyes when she looked at me. Perhaps the last time that she understood just how much she meant to me. After she passed away, I typed all of her quotes and included them in her funeral program as a tribute to her. When I think of my granny poo, I can hear her say:

  1. Lord, may Your praise be continually in my mouth and acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
  2. I’m just your lil’ Sister McKinney in the Lord.
  3. My anointing or calling doesn’t make me better than anyone else; it makes me responsible.
  4. Lord, I’ll tell dying men and women about your goodness everywhere. These and many blessings we ask in Your name, Amen.
  5. Never esteem anyone higher than yourself.
  6. Jesus of Nazareth, reach out your nail-scarred hands.
  7. God wants to bless you, but you have to stop thinking that you aren’t already worthy or qualified.
  8. Why do you always wait ‘till the last minute? Do the hard part first.
  9. Lord, we come boldly before the throne of grace. We know that you never failed us and we know that you never will.
  10. If God never gives me another blessing, He’s been good to me.
  11. Some things must be said because they must be said, and some things must be done because they must be done.
  12. No mercy given, no mercy shown. No mercy shown, no mercy given.
  13. Stay in your lane.
  14. Stop kissin’ on me. You gon’ mess up my pretty skin!
  15. I look to the hills from whence cometh my help, for my help cometh from the Lord.
  16. He is the author and finisher of my faith.
  17. We walk by faith, and not by sight.
  18. I’m doing pretty good, thank God.
  19. One day at a time.
  20. Order in the court!
  21. To God be the glory.
  22. A delay is not a denial.
  23. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.
  24. With love and kindness have I drawn thee.
  25. God is not the author of confusion.
  26. In everything, let there be decency and order.
  27. God sits high and looks low.
  28. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
  29. To whom much is given, much is required.
  30. Clean your room!
  31. There’s a time and a place for everything.
  32. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
  33. The prayers of the righteous availeth much.
  34. No weapon that is formed against me shall prosper, and every tongue that shall arise against me, in the judgment, He shall condemn.
  35. God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.
  36. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
  37. Nothing can happen unless God permits it.

Once a Lady, Always a Lady

Granny was always a classy lady. Her hair always looked pretty and she always smelled good. Before she knew about the stores Bath & Body Works or Victoria’s Secret, granny was already mixing lotions, perfumes and body sprays to make sweet-smelling concoctions. When I was about twelve years old, we visited a friend who was in the end stages of A.I.D.S. and suffering from dementia.  When granny walked into his hospital room, he suddenly yelled out, “Annie Lee, you smell so good you make my balls jump!” I wasn’t quite sure what “balls” meant, but granny’s blushing and dumbstruck face hinted that her sweet smell had set off the wrong kind of alarms. Everything had to be just right. Granny’s clothes and even her undergarments. And her breasts had to sit just right too. Today, I found granny’s bra inserts. You know, the ones that are made out of a spongy material, are flesh colored, and look like half-breasts – made complete by little nipples sticking out. The only problem is that they were peach-colored – hardly the color of granny’s brown flesh. And granny could hardly be called small-breasted. But, she rocked those lil’ bad boys every day. “You should get you some. Maybe your clothes would fit better,” she used to tell me – the President, Secretary and Treasurer of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. She wore those things wherever she went, including the hospital. During one such hospitalization, an x-ray tech noticed that she had them on as he prepared her for an MRI. “What are those?” he asked her. “You know what they are,” she said coyly. It always amazes me that granny was not ashamed to walk around with the breasts of a white sponge woman. She managed to lose her teeth, but she held on to those sponge breasts until she was discharged. Well, once a lady, always a lady.