What I Gained By Letting Go

Reading: What I Gained By Letting Go


What I Gained By Letting Go

I used to try and control everything. Then I found the DNA test my daughter had asked me to take

By Patti Eddington

Is it odd to say my most important life lesson was taken from a balloon? 

My husband and I got married when we were poor college students and spent the next several years becoming, if possible, even poorer — living in married housing, subsisting on huge pots of a “chili” concoction made with chicken hot dogs. We were almost totally dependent on our parents to fund our modest wedding, which was held at a local Knights of Columbus hall. Our honeymoon was spent in a swanky senior citizen community in Scottsdale where Jim’s aunt and uncle lent us their antique-filled condo. Because both of our cars were ancient, our cross-country transportation was provided by Jim’s brother who bravely lent us his brand new Trans Am. Opening the door of the car after the reception we found it stuffed with dozens of balloons. This was the early 1980s, a time before we realized the dangers to wildlife and the environment so we simply threw them on the grass and tore off on our adventure. 

The trip took us from East Lansing, Michigan, to the St. Louis Arch and the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. We marveled at the Painted Desert in northern Arizona. When almost 2,000 miles later, we finally pulled into the condo, Jim carefully checked to make sure we hadn’t nicked or scratched his brother’s prize possession.

“Look at this,” he said in amazement, bending down and hauling a small, intact balloon out from under the front fender. “Can you believe this thing made it all the way here with us?”

It defied probability. Such a fragile object surely must have encountered some rough times underneath that sports car, but it held on for the ride.

Letting Go: Learning to Go With It
When I was younger, I so often tried to force my way through life. I would stomp my feet literally and figuratively until I achieved what I thought I needed to achieve. I had big dreams and my determination sometimes seemed to become the goal itself. I would accomplish. I would not be stopped. 

But it was in the moments when I truly just let go that things seemed most easily to fall into place. 

I’d wanted to be a journalist since I was a young teenager, but by the time I was 30, I was tired of the long hours and the poor pay. I’d been offered a more lucrative job in public relations but it meant giving up a profession I’d clawed my way into, one I still thought was noble. I was told to expect a call from the PR department manager at a certain time on a certain day to let them know my decision and remember staring anxiously at the phone, still in turmoil.

“I’ll just make up my mind in that moment,” I thought. “Something will tell me. Somehow I’ll know. ”

The phone rang and I answered.

“I’ll take it,” I said. 

It was one of the best career decisions I ever didn’t really make. 

Letting Go: Learning to Have Less Control
I spent decades telling myself I had no interest in learning the story of the beginning of my life. I’d been adopted by loving parents but the first photo I had of myself was at 20 months old. Truthfully, there was always curiosity about my origins but I shoved it down deep, afraid that any expression would seem like I was not grateful for my life circumstances. Then, in my late 50s, my daughter gave me a DNA test. Plagued by a variety of health issues, she was hoping to gain some knowledge of family history. 

I thanked her but set the test aside. It was a busy time. She was getting married and her father and I were packing up the home where we’d lived for 23 years to move. It was almost a year later when I found the test in a still-unpacked box, spit in the tube, popped it in the mail, and assumed there would be no real surprises in the results. 

Never assume.

The test unfurled years of  mystery about all of my families. It led me to have my closed adoption records, sitting six decades in a courthouse vault, unlocked which, in turn, led me to write a book. 

I’d almost thrown that test in the trash, by the way. My daughter had never asked about it and I couldn’t see what would be gained. But then something told me to just go along for the ride.

I’m not in any way advocating not taking control of your own life. I still make to-do lists for every day, month, and year. But, as I age, I try to remember a meme I once saw that said: “Every dead body on Mt. Everest was once a very determined individual. So, maybe, calm down.”

In other words, on occasion, it’s okay to let go of the controls a little, and see where life takes you.

When my publisher was working on my book, they sent five possible covers. Because my memoir has to do with the mystery surrounding my adoption and the three birthdays I have celebrated in my life, there were images of beautiful pink cupcakes with sparklers as candles. And because a subplot of the book is my childhood desire to be the queen of some damn thing, there were images of broken tiaras.

“I’m honestly not sure how you’ll ever choose,” a friend told me. “They’re all so beautiful.”

They were all lovely. But only one was perfect. The image on the cover of my memoir is of a young girl, her face obscured by a big, colorful bouquet of balloons. 

Patti Eddington is the author of The Girl with Three Birthdays — An Adopted Daughter’s Memoir of Tiaras, Tough Truths, and Tall Tales, which will be released by She Writes Press on May 7, 2024. You can find Patti on Instagram or Facebook

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