Letting go of things, people, is part of life

The leaves at the very top form a green canopy of life from a distance. You hear them, the whistling of the leaves as the wind sweeps gently between them, looking for a warm cuddle. But what sticks with you is the feeling they bring. Standing under these trees gives you a fraction of an idea of what it must have felt to live in the Garden of Eden before the Devil slithered out of his hole and whispered sweet nothings into somebody’s ear.

Every evening after a long day, he sits at his porch, on his swinging chair, mug of porridge in hand, a transistor radio permanently set to a vernacular station behind him and gazes in the general direction of his trees; these trees he planted as a young man, and savours whatever sunset moments he savours.

As is with life however, things happen. Things that leave a man with no choice but to chop down his beloved trees. It is not a decision that comes to him easy. He cannot imagine men armed with power saws, those noisy machines fuelled by stinking petrol and handled by chain smoking men whose clothes stink; he just cannot abide the thought of them sinking their unfeeling machines into the trunks of the trees he planted himself and watched grow. But life is cruel and sometimes, you have to let strangers cut down things that you hold dear.

If the trees had to go, he had to oversee everything himself. He saw a man wielding the power saw, cigarette hanging from his dark lips and said to him, “You are already cutting them down. Do you have to poison them with your nicotine too?”

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Long after the trees were down and gone, the man continued to sit on his porch with his mug of porridge and stared at the stumps left behind. He even stood over his wife and children, to make sure they didn’t waste the firewood left of his beloved trees. The sawdust left from when the trees were chopped into timber, went to the cow pen and he made sure those cows didn’t waste that too.

“Couldn’t you just plant other trees?” I ask him. “Why do you hold on to the old ones?”

He says it’s an age thing. The older you get, the more you hang on to the fruits of the labours of your youth. You want to exercise power over what’s yours being in control, wielding that power matters more as you age.

“It’ll be a very sad day when I start holding on to things,” I say.

When my wife and I decided to move in together, I had thingscluttered all over my bachelor pad. An old TV set that belonged to my mother, but which was outdated and nonfunctional. An old bed that creaked every time I turned. Clothes I hadn’t worn in years but which felt important. A mattress whose cover got torn in 1999 and which survived a bedbug infestation (the mattress, not the cover). The kind of things that you bump into as you clean the house once in a blue moon and think, “Hey you! I haven’t seen you in ages!”

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I collected all these useless things into a nice heap behind the house, doused them in paraffin, and torched them. Oh, the catharses of watching them all go up in a billowing dark smoke! I walked away from the burning heap feeling like an action star, walking in slow motion, away from the exploding building behind him.

After that, I learned to be a minimalist. “If I don’t need it, I don’t want it” became the mantra by which I lived. In time, I spread that reasoning to humans too. I mean, who needs ten friends, five of whom don’t always pick up the phone when you call and never return the missed calls, when you could have two friends who will always be there for you?

How many, just like the man who had to cut down his trees, hold on to things, because it gives them the illusion of control? I believe the beauty of life comes in knowing that you have no control over anything. Sometimes life makes you leave thingsand people behind. Knowing that they might not always be there, won’t that enrich your experience of living with them because one day they might be gone?

Things are just things. People are just people. One day it all might be gone, so learn to let go.

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