After the storm departed, the sky looked like the color of surrender. Fingers of sunlight touched the tops and edges of trees coated in heavy, wet snow. One minute the snow was raining down and the next it was like standing on a sound stage and watching as just the right lighting cue transformed what had been a screen of static white into a wash of gold, blush, and crimson. What comes after retreat? Something beautiful. Though it rarely feels that way when you’re in the process of giving in. Then it just feels hard, unfair; it’s defeat that slows your stride to a crawl.
When we think about surrender, it’s usually in terms of loss, the kind that seems crushingly irreversible– military coups, hostage situations, illness and disease—which is why it feels like such a high-stake and bloody situation. You leave skin on the field in surrender.
“Letting go” is a pretty popular thing right now (thanks Frozen). It’s a notion that readily makes the rounds of Instagram and Facebook accounts delivered lovely stenciled script, off-set against an artsy image of a girl releasing balloons into the sky. It finds its way into short lifestyle type posts on wellness blogs. The phrase is a literary margarita, it goes down so smoothly—“hey man, just let it go. Be. Cool.” We’re less interested in talking about surrender even though this is the rinse and repeat action that occupies our daily lives when we let the nicotine craving win, when we make less and less time to do that thing we love to do, when we ask for help, again, for the millionth time even when we want to give up on ourselves, when we admit that we can’t do the heavy lifting of life alone any longer.
Weirdly, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the current election, which is full of depravity, coarseness, and a special brand of lunacy that makes it a nightmare parade where the worst and most shameful facets of America are on display. There’s a lot on the line in this cycle and like everyone else, I’m exhausted from the corrosive nature of whatever passes for campaigning these days. “We’re people!” we are all crying out. “Can’t you see our pain and struggle and longing for the decent, rational, common things that can help us all?” Maybe they can, we’d never know it from the way the media distorts them and us.
They’re people too. Cruz and Clinton and Rubio and even Trump. It pains me to think it most days given a lot of the sludge coming from their mouths. But the Grand Architect shook the jar and out came tumbling all kinds of interesting fellows with peculiar destinies ungraspable to many of us. Currently, it’s that type of unknowable logic that has thrown this homicidal mélange of individuals together who think they can run a country when it’s questionable that they could run a road-side lemonade stand. Still, their hearts beat, their lungs fill with air, their dreams deserve space to take root.
In the end, only one will stand clutching the ultimate prize. All others must surrender at some point. Some have already conceded, have admitted they cannot take another step further in this contest and they are mocked for it or else dismissed with relish. What happens when they go home to their families and their closest of close friends? I think of any one of these people getting up in the morning and standing in the shower surveying their altered day, their altered lives, their altered selves. I imagine them pushing the panicked thoughts away of “What next? What now? What am I to be?” as they soap and scrub and hope an answer magically rises to them in the steam like a wish-granting Jini. If only it were that easy. Then, of course, it wouldn’t be surrender, which wraps you in quiet and calls you to stop, to be, to forget yourself and the control you think you have. Leveling. We can eventually admit to failure, we can own mistakes, but we’re not so keen to admit that we no longer have our hands on the wheel.
Picking up and moving forward after surrender, that’s where the real power and grace unfolds. Because it requires that you take what you’ve learned about yourself and the world in the course of this epic battle or struggle or hard fought experience and fold it into the pages of your new normal. It burns away the illusions you might have held that you were anything other than human and gifts you with a beginning you didn’t even know you needed.