Nobody talks about letting go. The focus throughout my education and career had been on accumulation—of knowledge, friends, influence, material well-being. Then I came across the following quote. “In the end, only 3 things matter: how well you have loved, how well you have lived, and how well you have learned to let go.” I was in the middle of turning the presidency of Sokol Blosser Winery over to my children, and hit hard with the realization that letting go of control was far more difficult than anticipated. The quote hit home and triggered so much thought and soul searching that I included it in my book with the same title, Letting Go.
More recently, a friend sent me a slightly different version of the quote. “In the end, only 3 things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” The slight change in words gave each instance more nuanced significance. Here’s what I mean.
Like a muscle, love grows stronger when exercised. One’s capacity for love grows the more one loves. The word “much” instead of “well” suggests the strength and breadth of love rather than the depth. One could have great depth of love for one person and not care a whit for anyone else. How much suggests love as a broad base for action.
Living “gently” suggests concern, gratitude, humility. Living gently implies treading lightly on the earth. A sense of one’s impermanence and insignificance in the natural world. “Well” connotes decently pleasantly, ably and, while important, “gently” improves on these by adding compassion.
Grace is a profound virtue. Where well implies skill, grace implies finesse and equanimity, qualities beyond competence. Knowing when to let go and doing it with grace are important skills at any age. They take on more significance the older one gets. Letting go could be sending a child off to kindergarten or even college. It could be stepping back from a long career. Each step back requires a readjustment in who you are, even a reinvention if your identity was defined by what you just let go of. Doing this not only well, but with grace, would be the highest blessing.
I agree that these are the 3 things that matter. The more nuanced version of the quote makes it even more meaningful.