As 2018 wraps up, I’ve spent the last couple days reflecting on the passage of yet another year. Although it seems that each year goes by faster than the previous, the speed of 2018 was extraordinary.
Perhaps this is the new normal. Maybe time seems to speed up as I get older to remind me of it’s precious limitation – to help me understand that it is truly my most precious commodity. A commodity that I find myself wasting too often. Not wasting as in sitting on my couch eating Cheetos and watching Dr. Phil… but wasting as in not taking action on some of the most precious soul assignments I have been given. But that is, perhaps, a post for another time.
This year was full of lessons, as each year is. Some small and new, some large and ongoing. I’ve learned some things about feeling deserving. About taking risks. About listening to my instincts. I’ve learned to savor and appreciate life more deeply. To live in gratitude. To judge less. To love more. I’ve learned to trust God a little more, to trust myself. I’ve also learned how connected those last two are.
I’ve learned a bit about letting go of things that don’t serve me, of ideas and people I have outgrown. I want to share about something I recently let go of… a door that was difficult to close, but that had to be shut.
I spent six years writing a book about my dad’s suicide in August of 2009, which was followed by a tough breakup (in September), the discovery of a hard and shocking truth (in October), and getting hit by a truck while bicycling (the following February). These events culminated in my decision to bicycle across the United States from May to August of 2010.
When I started writing the book, my focus was on the ride. I wanted to share about the incredible people and experiences I encountered during those 75 days – a journey that left me transformed. I realized, however, that the story was incomplete without the details of the events that led up to the ride. And so, after I wrote about the actual ride, I went back to face what was the most painful, lonely, and gut-wrenching period of my life.
Over and over again, I dissected, reflected, and relived those months. I wanted to write the story in a way that was visceral and painful. I wanted my readers to feel the deep, agonizing cuts I experienced during that period of my life. Carefully, methodically, I wrote and rewrote the story, bleeding out the words, letting them flow from my soul in a raw, cathartic flood. I usually wrote by candlelight, at night. Always, I wrote alone. And always, I grieved through it.
The product of those hundreds – probably thousands – of hours spent writing my story never felt right to me. I kept going back to it, picking at it, poking it with a stick, wondering why I couldn’t seem to get it correct. No matter how hard I tried, the work felt off. In terms of the actual writing, it is work I am proud of – although I have shared it with only a couple of people. It accomplished what I set out to. It is an emotional beat down. It will make you cry. It will make you hurt… it will make you feel, if only for a moment, a glimpse of my pain. From a literary standpoint, I nailed it.
But I can never publish it.
Before I came to this realization, I started querying book agents. If you’ve never been through the process of writing a book proposal, completing a manuscript, and then begging agents to take a look at it, I’ll tell you this – it’s exhausting. The feedback I received was mostly positive – kind rejections that encouraged me to publish, but that let me know the agents I targeted weren’t currently taking on memoir.
Memoir, it turns out, is very difficult to break into.
My decision not to publish actually had nothing to do with the lack of success from my half-hearted attempts to secure an agent. Rather, it had everything to do with the pain encapsulated in those 300 pages. I’ve realized that this darkness is not something I want to send out into the universe. I don’t want to publish something that makes people hurt. It seems selfish and self-aggrandizing to intentionally write something with the goal of dragging my readers over hot coals and glass shards. I have grown a lot since I started writing that book, back in 2011. I want to be a source of light, of inspiration. I want my words to uplift people, not make them suffer vicariously.
The other reason I will not publish this book is because I dragged my dad through the mud. I was so full of anger and pain after he died. I viewed his suicide as a selfish and cruel act, proof that he was a terrible person. I, in all my pain and confusion, could not possibly put myself in his shoes. I could not love my dad through my own suffering. I could not begin to imagine that, perhaps, he viewed his suicide as a sacrifice. That maybe, he actually thought the world would be better off without him. That perhaps, in his depressed and manic state, he thought he was committing an act of love.
You know, I no longer see my dad as this villain who was out to hurt his family. The loss of my dad is no longer about me or the pain he caused. It is about loving him and trying to understand the unimaginable torment he must have experienced – pain so severe that it drove him to do something I cannot begin to comprehend. It is about recognizing that sometimes, my conclusions are off. That despite my best attempts, I will never truly understand the experience of another person – because it is theirs, not mine.
With all this said, I have found peace in letting go of this manuscript. It’s almost like a burden has been lifted. I’m no longer dragging around these harsh and battered words with me. I was meant to write it, no doubt. But not to publish. It was a tool of healing for me. A powerful one. Often, I think we set out to do things with precise objectives in mind. And while that’s an essential part of goal-setting, I think I’m learning that the purpose in those goals may actually differ wildly from what I originally intended. This is an excellent example of that. I set out to write a compelling story that would surely become a New York Times bestseller and be made into a movie. But the purpose of writing the manuscript was actually about healing, and sharpening my skills as a writer. The bike ride, the loss of my dad… those things are not my story. They are a chapter in it. My life story has become far more compelling in the years since, and I know that will only continue as I grow and open myself more… and continue to say yes to life.
There is a lot of freedom in letting go.