Don't Set Them Free
For sixth grade graduation, we each had to memorize a quote and then, in front of the entire audience recite the quote and say what that one meant to us and why we choose it.
Ponyboy, who was my very best friend, chose a lofty Shakespearean excerpt. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” she said gracefully looking up from her cue cards, and launched into a fabulous speech that I was quite proud of her for saying with such confidence.
I’d picked a quote I’d gotten on a postcard. Back in the day, we did things like send postcards to the bottom five people on a list that we got in the mail from a distant friend we met at camp that one year, and so each person got like a flamilion postcards from around the world. It was really fun. I kept one post card that particularly spoke to me and taped it onto my mirror, where it stayed until I left for college. It was blue, and had seagulls flying in the background, and said in white 80’s bubble letters, "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.”
I loved that quote at the time. I’ve been thinking a lot about it this last week, and I wish I could go back to my sixth grade self and share some things I’ve learned in the *cough*cough* years it’s been. So I wrote my younger self a letter.
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First, let me just tell you how amazing you were up on that stage, reciting your quote so perfectly in your pink corduroy pants, vertical pink and white striped button up shirt, and thin belt around your middle. Your feathered hair was perfect, and you totally stood up straight. You really rocked your presentation and everyone was so proud of you.
Also, I love that you chose a quote that truly spoke to you. I know that you were passionate about it, and as you spoke, in your head wild mustangs ran free in the mountains and desert Arabians were galloping in that graceful way of theirs across the sand. You imagined birds flying through the air, wings beating swift and sure. You loved all those graceful animals—all the animals, everywhere— enough to want them to be free and alive, and not unhappily confined in cages—and I love that about you.
I also want to agree to disagree with you. I’ll tell you a secret: I think that quote is complete BS. You see, Sweetie, if you truly love something, you shouldn’t set it free. You should nurture it and give it all the love and affection available in your tremendous, precious heart. You should tend to it carefully so that it grows and is strong on its own and can do its Will (you’ll understand that later) both on its own and with you.
In reality, we can’t let horses run free in the hills and valleys of Malibu as you so often imagined. Simply speaking, they might not thrive there, with all the cars, lack of proper food, fallen trees, coyotes, etc. Good horse owners do keep them safe in stables—but also pet them, ride them, give them healthy foods to eat so they can grow strong, and exercise them.
Can you imagine setting Pookie free? Where would she go? Who would feed her? Where would she sleep? What would she do all day, without her important chores of bringing in the paper each morning and fetching the ball—these things that bring her and our family so much joy? Instead of setting her free, our family loves Pookie. We give her biscuits, take her for walks, and bring her with us when we go camping. We make sure she has enough to eat, bury her poop in the backyard so that she has a clean space to play and sun herself, and take her to the vet for her shots when that’s needed. We pet her, and talk to her, because she is our Pookie, and we love her.
Andrea, these are animals that I’m talking about—because that’s what’s in your head. I want you to think about people, now.
For people, this quote is only sort of true. You can’t force someone to love you or stay with you—and if someone really wants to go, I say LET THEM. You are a powerhouse and will find someone else, if that is what you want. Do not ever try to keep someone around who doesn’t want to be around you, because that’s no fun for either person. This is a tough and sometimes lonely road, but I guarantee you’ll be so much happier if you’re not chasing after people who don’t give a fig about you. You deserve so much more than that.
Instead of thinking about setting people free, why not nurture the people you love right now. Love them with all your might—and show them you care in every interaction you ever have with them, even the not-so-fun ones. Be present with them, be gentle with them, and don’t ever take a single one of them for granted, even when you are focused on other things. That’s really, really important. They need your Light, your energy, and your love—that’s why they are attracted to you, because you have these things in such abundance.
Above all, nurture yourself. Don’t stop learning, don’t stop loving, and take a bath every once in a while—showers, while phenomenal for thinking things through and creating poetry, are not good for relaxing or being a mermaid. You should be a mermaid whenever possible. Trust me on that one.
Congratulations again on a job well done.