The Arduous Wisdom of Letting Go

By Natalie Briscoe

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” - Eckhart Tolle

As a team building exercise for the Congregational Life Leadership Team, we were each tasked with presenting an object that, in one way or another, represented some part of our spiritual journey. I went to my go-to location for questions like this: my old jewelry box. I could have used my grandmother’s rosary, representing my Catholic roots. I could have used my confirmation necklace, created from several family members’ engagement and wedding rings, representing the way in which I am held by my family and their bonds. I could have used any number of chalices stored there, representing many different points on my Unitarian Universalist faith journey, or I could have used the prayer beads I created in my Wellspring group, representing my personal relationship with the Divine. While I was digging around and deciding, I found the perfect piece stashed way in the back, behind the Christmas jewelry and the childhood pieces I can never seem to get rid of: my Blockbuster Video membership card.

I was born in 1980 and grew up in the height of Blockbuster culture. As a child, I couldn’t wait to finish dinner on Friday nights so I could accompany my Grandpa to Blockbuster and pick out our weekend selections. These ritual outings were bonding at its highest: me and my Grandpa, a Master Sergeant in the Air Force tasked with caring for this tiny soft-hearted girl, singing to Hank Williams with the windows rolled down, flying through the neon neighborhoods of our small town. It was on these nights that I learned how I was cared for (“Pick out any candy you want, honey”) and how to care for others (“Be Kind. Rewind” Pay it forward, leave it better for the next person.) I even remember my Grandma’s face going through the selections at the kitchen table upon our return: smiling at Dirty Dancing; rolling her eyes at Stripes; playfully staring at Raiders of the Lost Ark (AGAIN?).

The first plastic card I ever had in my wallet was my very own Blockbuster card. I was so proud to show everyone my name typed on the back, printed on the dot matrix printer and laminated before my very eyes. I took this responsibility very seriously. I always returned on time; no late fees for THIS account. When I walked into the store, I felt the freedom of knowing I could choose my movie for myself (as long as it wasn’t rated R, because those rentals required photo ID proving you are over 17).

In high school, Blockbuster Friday was a whole party. My friends stormed into the store around 9PM like we had just been released from detention. We debated every aspect of film in those wide aisles, taking ourselves way too seriously. We bought every ounce of sugar in the place, first because we didn’t do any drugs and then later because we did. First kisses happened in the blue glow of the screen after watching The Shinning. I fell in love with life to the soundtrack of Dazed and Confused and Forrest Gump. Hormones notwithstanding, those were great times.

And then, sometime in college, a revolution began. YouTube, Vine, Netflix, Redbox. I was instantly NOT a fan. First of all, I don’t like change. Second of all, I missed every memory that I had of a Blockbuster Video being triggered each time I walked in the store. I missed being reminded of who I was and had been just by smelling that...weird plastic smell that we all instantly recognize. It was nearly a decade before I acquiesced into the convenience of streaming services. It took me that long to mourn.

I continue to be grateful to Blockbuster Video and every single lesson it taught me along the way. How to love and be loved; how to laugh at myself; how to dive into art; how to hear another person’s story. And I’m grateful for the lessons I didn’t necessarily want. Mourning takes a long time. Sometimes the things I need to let go of are the things I love. I don’t always know what next looks like, and that is okay. And most importantly, I still get to have good memories of the people, places, and times I had to let go of. We don’t have to hate something in order to say goodbye to it.

As we move into this next fall in Congregational Life, I am thinking a lot about these lessons. The global pandemic has asked us to let go of things, many of which we love. We can honor them, learn from them, and then do the brave thing and let them go. When we see each other again, we will be different. We will have mourned together. And we may not know what comes next. Yet, it comes. I’ll see you in the future, friends. And I’ll buy you some sugar, for old times’ sake.