“There are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
― Ann Landers

When I hear someone say they’ve been thrown a lifeline, I picture a round, white floatation device we used to call a ‘lifesaver’ with a line attached to a savior at its other end. That rescuer could be a person or thing; someone on a boat in my imagination, but certainly there are many other possibilities.

The other day, a writer friend suggested to me in a profound, sudden thought, that I might no longer need the lifeline writing has offered for the last decade of my life. It was one of those shocking pronouncements one is completely unprepared for, yet simultaneously recognize as truth. He was right. However, those distinctions between the gradations of lifelines from support to salvation, are legion and far apart; a distance almost as dramatic as the space between self-confidence and survival.

A savior, according to almost any English dictionary, is one who runs the gamut from protecting, to delivering, to liberating, before actually saving. But those definitions hint at the differences in lifelines, as well. The savior at the other end of the rope might be there only to shore up confidence rather than actually save a life. What does all this matter? In fact, a great deal. If you’ve ever shopped for life vests and been overwhelmed by the choices from ‘shallow water’ and ‘near shore’ floatation vests to USCG deep sea devices, you know there are as many different life-saving strategies as there are threatening situations. Throwing an inflatable vest to someone already in the water who can’t swim would be useless folly, while a simple, rigid life-saving ring with a line attached would work much better. A lifeline thrown to a skater on a pond of thin ice would be unnecessary for use on an indoor rink. Yet some kind of support, like the ingenious milk crates pushed in front of a beginner for balance could be essential confidence builders and balance insurance, warding off broken wrists and concussions. There are certainly real dangers in playing in the water or on its frozen counterpart without the skills to guard life and limb, but there are many ways to protect, reassure and even save the life of someone exposed to those dangers.

While we know immediately when the lifeline in the water or on cracked ice has served its purpose, we seem oblivious to, or perhaps in denial of the changing circumstances making a lifeline superfluous in our daily living. Are we so traumatized by emotional threats that we don’t dare breathe a sigh of relief and step out of the metaphoric life preserver with its tether, even when wearing it is only going to weigh us down and get in our way? Perhaps we all need a friend to tell us we don’t need it any more. ‘You can let go of that now,’ might well be just what we need to hear when we’re still hanging onto the line with white knuckles.

And so, although I’m feeling the air open around me now that I’ve realized I don’t need the lifeline I clung to when my husband was dying, I’m also trying to figure out just how to fold up my life-saving device to keep it in good shape and near-by for the most efficient deployment should I need it again. I’m also acutely aware that I still need other support systems to keep me on course and moving ahead. But once that line has been neatly folded away with the reverence and care it deserves, it’s time to look up to see all the possibilities around us. Writing offers a huge variety of creative connections and the necessity to be our own boss, which comes in handy once confidence has rebuilt.

There are so many ways to move forward happily and safely, including the grasp of a friend’s hand or new skill learned with the help of a mentor. Perhaps a forgotten experience from a former life will rise to the surface now at just the moment we need to take a new direction. But any way you look, you find the end of a lifeline’s usefulness allows you to reach out for other possibilities.  They’re floating in the waters all around us, suggesting we have to let go of one to grab onto another. I finally see how what seemed like a definitive statement, ‘this is my lifeline’, was missing something. It should have been punctuated by the qualifying phrase, ‘for now’! Because once your life has been saved, you’d better get up and do something with it.

7 Responses to Lifeline~

  1. Sid
    This reminds me of the first time I had an interview with my surgeon for the upcoming 12-hour serious cancer operation I had at Johns Hopkins with 3 surgeons, a neurosurgeon, a plastic and reconstructive one and an oncologist. Peggy and asked question after question and finally the lead surgeon said, “When are you going to let go of the rope?” We almost laughed out loud, because it reminded both Peggy and me of a book called Friedman’s Fables by her mentor, Edwin H. Friedman, and a story of a person walking across a bridge, encountering a person coming toward them. That person suddenly said to the other, “Here, please hold onto this”, and proceeded to jump off the bridge. The person dangled for awhile until the person holding on to him wondered how long he would have to hold, thereby being responsible for the other person. At some point the person who jumped off the bridge said “You are responsible for my life”, to which he said that the other person had to take responsibility for his own life and the person holding on at the top let go.

  2. My sense is that artists keep at their work for exactly what you observe. For some there is the endless pursuit of being able to give it up some day, as if its an obsession eating at their souls, to be free to put down the paint brush, or the sculptors hammer. It’s almost an affliction having to write or play music or carve and a dream to be free of the compulsion. So its quite an accomplishment to be able to lay it aside and reenter the world of wider possibilities. You present a sense of hope that others too can let go when the time is right, not feel the dependence of a lifeline, tethered in at both ends. There is complex irony in your observation. At the heart of much of creativity is a lack of confidence, can one bring out the hidden emotion we often bypass or fail to perceive? On the other hand we need confidence to create, and thus your throwing aside the life line demonstrates great confidence, we all should take a lesson from. Another breakthrough.

    • I’ve often noted how important it is to be able to reach the line again whenever the need arises. Thanks for this thoughtful comment. It goes a lot deeper than the post did!

  3. Sometimes it’s unfortunate circumstances that unblock the lifeline to the talent that was always there. And then, that talent builds a new life — a creative life. Sidney, my life has been blessed by your creative force.
    L., Kathleen

    • That’s the mystery, isn’t it? Where does that creative force come from and what feeds it? I think we all nurture each other’s creativity. Thank you, Kathleen, for sharing your many talents and gifts with your writing community.

  4. Hi Sid! What a lovely post! We all have or have had those “lifelines” in our lives and it takes great confidence and optimism to let go in order to see what else is offered “out there” in the vastness of space and time! Good for you, and I hope you find great peace in this and also will find many other possibilities that nourish your soul and make you feel contented and fulfilled. Sending love, Cally xo

    • Thanks, Cally. Confidence is a funny thing and often fleeting, but it does seem to grow if you have a little faith in your own abilities. Peace, contentment, fulfillment, not sure I could still write with all of that comfort! But I could sure try. !#**

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