Moodswing - Hanging on

Letting go is a lesson not easily learned

In general, I have to say I hate being dragged. I’ve thought about it a lot lately, mentally searching for a dignified situation in which dragging a person would be called upon, but the closest I can concoct is if you collapsed from kidney failure while crossing the street or something, with only weak people around to haul you out of the path of an oncoming garbage truck. But even then it’s just the intent that is dignified, while the process itself is not. So I’ve concluded that being dragged is always a little humiliating, or at least it was the last time it happened to me.

Of course I could have let go of my purse and saved myself some decorum. But no, my fingers fastened on the strap like the jaws of a little pit bull. You should have seen the thief’s face when she looked back to see me still there, hanging on. I was surprised myself. I didn’t know I was that quick, but still the fracas caused me to do a face plant in the sidewalk. Even then I didn’t let go, and that is when the dragging happened.

This occurred in Zurich a few weeks back, and traditionally the Swiss reserve their crime quotient for thievery of a much more massive scale — such as the jillions in Jewish assets their banks have horded since the second World War — but lately miscreants of a trivial nature have threaded themselves through the country’s cracks, probably enticed by the easy game, as I can’t think of a single Swiss citizen who would value a wallet over suitable social behavior.

But me? I hung on, and while I was being dragged I remember thinking, “Yes, I bet this is very attractive,” especially since my entire body has been blessed with the flexibility of a redwood minus the single exception of my elbows, which are double jointed and can bend inward unnaturally. So when the thief doubled back to try yanking and twisting the purse from my grasp, my arm simply flopped and contorted about like an angry eel, yet I still hung on. Finally the thief gave up and the disgusted onlookers then commenced their strolling. One gentleman and his companion sidestepped me like a pile of poo. “Her bag must contain something very valuable,” he said in a way that revealed he thought the opposite.

I’d have been angry if I didn’t concede his point. Essentially, I’d just risked my life for a small wad of foreign money, two tampons and one half-masticated, fuzz-covered peppermint pellet. “Hanging onto crap will kill you,” I’ve heard Grant say a zillion times, which is appropriate because he is always divesting himself of his stuff. He’s accumulated and dispersed at least a dozen households since I met him. His present apartment, a big loft at the Telephone Factory, is little more than a funnel for furniture — a big colon, kind of, as things are put there just to be passed through. To know Grant is to know his mantra: “Let it go. Let it go.”

I try to remember that when I find myself suddenly still furious over offenses years and years past, like the time my college roommate fucked my useless boyfriend, or the time I think my high-school teacher was trying to secretly dry hump me while we stood in line for the cafeteria, or the time my older sister beat the crap out of me with a wooden spatula, or even the time that bitchy plebe gave me really bad service at the photo-processing counter. God! You can harbor an entire odyssey of umbrages like these, resentments you thought were long gone only to have them suddenly bubble into your brain one day while you’re driving, and pretty soon there you are screaming out imaginary arguments with people who are probably dead. In that sense I get it. What possible good comes out of hanging on?

But it’s not always that easy, knowing when to let go of things. Take hope, for example. I have this insane hope that the world will one day be relatively free of people pissing out of their territory — religion-wise, values-wise, otherwise — and that there really might be a universal plateau we can reach in that regard. Lary says I should let that go and start stockpiling weapons. But I can’t, and I really wonder whether that weakens or strengthens me as a person.

Like with the situation in Zurich. When the thief gave up on me, she simply walked away. Walked, with a curious look on her face. She had severely plucked eyebrows and braided hair the color of highway hazard cones, and she didn’t speak German. I know this because I saw her again as I turned the corner, talking to the rest of her ratty gang, one of which started to make his way toward me before she stopped him. So instead we watched each other, the thief and I, and then something funny happened.

We laughed. We just did, somewhat sheepishly, and as I continued on my way she said something to her friend. I don’t speak their language but I have an idea what it was. “That’s the one,” she was saying, “who won’t let go.”

Hollis Gillespie is a commentator for “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio. To hear her recent NPR commentaries, log onto