They finally cut the dying cactus down. Disoriented and deadened by the winter storm we had in February, its pads had already begun to fall off on their own, rotting dark, stinking stains into the sidewalk. Now, it is only a stump, not even a tenth of its original size. I am shocked how little this stump resembles a cactus–it’s far more wooden than I expected it to look. Almost as though, when it grows back, it will instead transform into a tree. Perhaps that is what abscission–the intentional shedding of various parts of living organisms–does to us. Transforms us into something entirely different. Or perhaps it simply makes us better versions of what we were before. Maybe parts of us, once shed, never grow back.
Regardless, once things begin to fall away, we may feel lighter, but we also feel naked, exposed. Vulnerable. That is how I’m feeling now. And I suspect a lot of other people are feeling it too. We ought not to fight it, but instead, lean into it–the shedding, the changing, the vulnerability it brings. Because pressing into that feeling means getting back to our roots. It means understanding the core, essential truth of who we are.
This past year weighed down heavily on all of us, a mantle of loss, grief, fear, anger, disbelief, and crushed hopes. But right now, some of us, in certain ways, are feeling lighter for the first time in ages. The load is beginning to lessen. Pressure is releasing. And we sense the need to respond to this by examining things that felt normal for so long, things that we realized we don’t need anymore, and casting them off so that we may eventually expand into this new spaciousness we find ourselves in.
Isn’t this the core spiritual practice of Lent? The letting-go, the shedding of what no longer serves us? We cease certain practices–anything from eating meat to using social media–so that we leave space for something, or rather Someone, more expansive to take their place in our lives. This practice of letting go, of shedding, is both deeply human and deeply biblical. But it is not easy.
There have been various times in life where I’ve put down certain spiritual convictions, political positions, career plans, relationship timelines, beliefs about myself, emotional needs. In my experience, this shedding is usually gradual, slow. I need practice, research, rumination, experimentation over time. I journal. I agonize. I make small changes. Some good examples of this are my journey with intuitive eating (where over the years I have shed the practices of weighing myself and dieting, as well as harmful beliefs about diet culture, “good” and “bad” foods, etc.) as well as my religious convictions when it comes to women’s roles in the church (in this case, I’ve shed a lot of limiting beliefs I had about women’s roles over the years after many years of observing and studying and learning).
On the other hand, some shedding happens in a single moment. A couple weeks ago I had a therapy appointment where I was anticipating a certain conversation with someone and explaining my reasoning to them, and my therapist asked me, “What amount of explanation do you owe them, though?” And in that moment, I realized: none. Suddenly I could see through what I thought was me owing them an explanation and understood that really, I just wanted them to respect me and my right to my own opinion. With a single question, I let go of the need to justify myself. And what a relief I felt. It felt the beginning of a great healing. Like I could finally tell a new story.
Yes–abscission is just as important to good storytelling as it is to a good life.
I think of a first draft, red ink slicing up its paper skin. It looks harsh, but cutting out that character who didn’t really need to be there, that plot line that didn’t serve the protagonist with any real character development, that line that seemed funny at the time but now only falls flat–it’s only serving the work. Imagine that draft with most of its original pages thrown in the trash–your “darlings murdered,” as writers say–and now you’re working with what’s left: something more meaningful and concise. A story with masterwork potential.
So I’m left asking: what is the story God is trying to tell with my life, and what do I need to shed in order to more fully live out that story? I know that who I am now, nearly on the other side of the pandemic, is decidedly not the same person who entered 2020, who survived that disorienting hell of a year. Much has fallen away, leaving empty spaces, but these are spaces in which I can expand. In the spaces created by letting go, I can be filled, grow, and change.
Current Novel Word Count: 16,690 What I'm Writing: I've been working on world-building, determining the rules of the magic, and figuring out all the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff for my novel. Also some secondary character arcs. Not much in terms of actual word count, but nevertheless, important meta-writing. Weird Writerly Topics I've Googled This Week: Nothing lately. Writing Exercises I've Done: Nothing lately. What I'm Reading: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, The Cross and the Lynching Tree by Dr. James H. Cone What I'm Listening To: "Burning in Carolina" by Delta Rae, "Do You Realize??" by The Flaming Lips, "He's Alive" by Dolly Parton