Natalie Ogbourne

Each summer we gather with my husband’s family at his parents’ house. We converge on their home in vehicles stuffed with people and dogs, books and toys, luggage and anticipation. Mixed among all those are the lingering imprints of our lives.

I can pack. What I can’t do is to remember to bring what I’ve packed. I’ve left behind whole suitcases (twice), the bag with the suits and pool toys for a swimming trip, and Christmas gifts (all of them and, once again, twice). This year it was just a visor. I brought a hat, but for reasons of pure vanity, I wanted a visor. Visors shade the face while exposing the hair, allowing the sun to do its bleaching work. Enough time outdoors and I will return home with hair lightened to something closer to the familiar blond of my youth.

J’s mom had a spare, which came to me through the hands of my brother-in-law. He watched me attempt to cram it on my head in its tiny, straight-from-the-factory state and adopted a soothing voice as he began delivering instructions. “Release the tension. Pull the Velcro and release the tension.”

Release the tension. He made it sound easy.

Every year we arrive carrying varying levels of tension. We bring it from unending home maintenance projects, deadlines, calendars, family life, and work, the most consistent source of all. If it was easy to leave it behind, we would. Our week together is short.

Unlike our suitcases, tension doesn’t sit quietly in a corner waiting to be unpacked. Tension clings. Releasing it requires action. It is not something that happens to us; it’s something we do. Though the how differs from person to person, the possibility is there for us all.

Earlier this summer I woke to a to-do app badge that read fifty-two. Fifty-two items on the list for that day. I knew the source of the bloat. Each time I ran into a project that I just could not get accomplished during the school year, I put it on the list for summer break. Clean out the freezer: May 27. Organize the study: May 27. Deal with the closet: May 27.

I knew that my mental plan was to spread those items out over the summer, but the foreboding number on the badge unleashed tension that gripped and twisted whatever part of me that experiences stress.

No books. No walks. No bike rides. I would be too busy.

That doesn’t work out well in a family. Kids and husbands, mine anyway, thrive on books, walks, and bike rides. They thrive when I am relaxed enough to stop and smile and attend. They flourish when I manage to release the tension.

So I had to choose. Which was more important, the state of my people or the state of my closet? The simple answer was my people.

But the list circled like a vulture, hungry after all these months on a goal-free, dream-free diet. Mental assent was not enough. I had to act. I had to take the list and sort it, separating the need-to-dos from the want-to-dos and the most important from the still important but less so and live with the results. If my people were to truly win, I had to let it go. Every day.

Some days have brought more success than others. But I’m trying to remember what I know and act on that knowledge. My list will always be with me. My people may not. Some things have to be done. Other things must wait. That weight of all those undone things? I have to let it go.

How do you let it go?