A few weeks ago, YouTube suggested a video from Storror, a group of seven parkour athletes from Great Britain. I watched it, naturally. And another. And another. Their epic leaps across building tops and over dark, dank waters got me thinking that I might have what it takes to be a decent older-aged (but not old) parkour athlete. I have a gymnastics background, I can jump and balance well, my knees only hurt sometimes, and I desperately want to hang onto whatever semblance of youth I have left. I began looking for chances to practice kong vaults and precision jumps.
When a day trip to New Hampshire’s White Mountains came up this past weekend, some friends and I considered ways to enjoy the great outdoors and the explosion of fall colors in the Northeast. Quickly, our best option became exploring the Swift River – a quick running but shallow river dotted with exposed rocks. Surely, this was a place to practice my newfound parkour passion. We all set out, stepping lightly from rock to rock, hugging the banks of the river and occasionally wandering out onto rocks just above deeper water.
At one point, I thought I could jump up onto a big rock for a great view and a chance to cross over. As I leapt upward, my foot landed firmly…and slipped. My momentum brought my knees and chest crashing into it. As I slid down, my fingers caught hold of a thin ledge. Dangling for just a moment, feet inches above the frigid mountain stream, I knew I couldn’t hold on. I slowly lowered myself down into the water, boots first, with a look of defeat cast toward my friends. I had to let go and accept the cold.
These months have been marked by letting go. Back in March, I felt sure we’d be done with COVID by Easter. Our national leaders told us as such. May came and went, then June, July, and on. I’ve let go of any hope for a quick resolution to the pandemic.
In the mid-March days of COVID, I was taking long walks at night without a mask on. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and wanted the cool early spring air to hit my lungs unimpeded. Masks weren’t the norm right away. But, when it became clear that masks were essential, I let go of my own sense of discomfort and started wearing them outside with very, very few exceptions.
I took a nice walk with an old friend just the other day. I hadn’t seen them in well over a year, and after a lovely stroll in the cool autumn breeze, I wanted to give them a hug goodbye. Who knows when I’ll see them again. No hug. Another thing to let go.
These lettings go are humble, nothing compared to what so many have lost. In this country alone, 215,00 families have let go of loved ones. Globally, it’s well over a million. Jobs lost, businesses closed, high school and college seniors robbed of hallmark experiences and first-time students entering their formative years of learning behind computer screens.
It is, for most, a powerless situation. Control, which we so deeply seek to hold onto, is gone. We have no choice but to plunge further into the deep. We have no choice but to let go.
Autumn trees will eventually go bare. After a moment of brilliance, the leaves will let go. Their departure makes way for the starkness of winter. But as Karl Rahner observes, in winter we’re able to see deeper into the forest. We gaze deeper into that unknown which has the power to terrify us, but also the power to draw us back to warmth and to each other.
The day was not lost, in spite of my wetness. I let go, went for a skin-piercing swim, and climbed out another way. I slogged along, boots heavy with water, but joyful to be surrounded by people I love. Nothing could rob us of the delight and peace of the moment, the beautiful sunlight, the kaleidoscope of colors, the sound of the rushing water and the thrill of leaping again and again. Eventually, I dried out, warmed up, and slept content.
Now might be a time of letting go. Maybe that’s just what we need. We can only control so much. It is, after all, an act of faith to surrender ourselves to something bigger, something yet to be seen, something perhaps a little scary, but something that is, with hope, not so far off.