Last night I burned some old letters. I slipped them beneath my grilling pork chops, killing two birds with one stone. Out with the old, in with dinner.
It is the end of summer, not quite the beginning of fall, but I had a sudden itch to clean out my closets. It was just about a year ago that I sold the house where I’d raised my children. Soon after downsizing to give my new marriage a chance to grow in its own soil, my husband and business partner decided to throw in the towel. Soon after he told me he’d be taking our studio and all of its Gyrotonic equipment, too.
The letters I burned were a couple of years worth of emailed love letters that fueled the fire our transcontinental relationship. I’d lovingly printed them out, thinking maybe someday, as an anniversary gift, I’d make it into a book for him. There were travel itineraries, little scrawled notes of “I love you’s” and embarrassing pet names for each other. After we split up, I kept letters for other reasons, mostly as proof that I’d not hallucinated the whole thing. Now a box of words, both ordinary and profane, was taking up precious space in my closet — space that could be used for boots or another box of memories, like my trip to Italy that I took with my daughter at the beginning of summer.
I learned some things about fire and, by association, about letting go. First of all, no matter how hot the fire, you can’t put too many pieces of paper on it at once. Those thin sheets of white paper become dense when they’re all together. Or, perhaps it’s the ink; all those words do add up to physical matter on the page. But once the pieces catch, the flame is big and hot. You have to be careful not to get burned, or to start a fire elsewhere if a little breeze picks up. And, you have to be patient. I wanted to just drop the whole box on the white-hot charcoal, but you quickly learn that letting go is a slow and steady thing, letter by letter, word by word.
I ate my dinner, the “evidence” of the relationship raging. The ease with which it all went up in flames was both stupid and stunning. I tried to picture me as that other person. I took my pork chop off the grill and ate it as the rest of the letters burned. The meat was delicious.
The hardest thing about letting go may be the realization that some of our most substantive experiences could come down to this: smoke, flame and ashes. But burning leaves ashes. Lots of them. Nothing really goes away, just transforms, changes form, and if we allow it, fuels new life. When my dad passed away two years ago, we cremated him. A year after that, my mom and I scattered his ashes throughout the hills of Berkeley, Calif. where we’re from. The ashes weighed a couple of pounds. I was afraid to touch them, but found some comfort when I dug my hand in and felt the grit of it between my fingers. We tossed them up into the wind, making arcs in the sunlight, the boney parts falling faster than the rest. When we were done there were ashes on our hands and on my clothes.
Everyday, I can hear my dad’s gravelly voice telling me how proud he is of me and my studio. As we edge toward fall, I am amazed by the way Embody Movement Studio has risen from the ashes, as though it were always there, waiting to be born. And all of you, my students, friends, colleagues were there, too, urging me forward, onward. If I could change anything, I would not change one single thing. Fires create fertile ground. And, possibly help grill a nice pork chop.