Last night I wandered into the TV room just in time to catch this scene from Finding Nemo. In it, Marlin, Nemo’s father, is on a quest to find his son and along the way befriends Dory, a sweet fish with short-term memory loss but deep wisdom about life. The scene finds Marlin and Dory in the belly of a whale, and Marlin is in despair:
Marlin: I promised him [Nemo] I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Huh. That’s a funny thing to promise.
D: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him–then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo [Nemo].
(Among the details Dory has trouble remembering is Nemo’s name!)
This movie might have been subtitled Marlin Learns to Let Go for all the wisdom he gains on his journey. In Marlin, I see myself, and I suspect many other parents who have ever been confronted with finding the right balance of “hands on” and “letting go” when it comes to their children.
Revisiting this scene last night was a heartwarming coincidence, since earlier in the day we deposited our 14-year-old at a week-long soccer camp. She’s staying in a dorm room with a friend, and couldn’t wait to get rid of her family. As we drove away, the sting of leaving her was far greater than I expected. And her lack of sentimentality was like a bit of salt in the wound.
It was a day of goodbyes. Earlier we attended the funeral of my dear friend and neighbor’s mother. The eulogies commended her strength of character and faithful love of her family–characteristics I see in her daughter as well. My friend has been preparing for this goodbye for a while, but these final rituals bring with them the ultimate letting go. My friend will greatly miss her mother’s physical presence. I trust that in the days to come she’ll know her mom’s spiritual presence and delight in the ways her mother is woven into the fabric of her life.
Back to the whale, which serves as a great metaphor for any crisis or change we face in life: Marlin and Dory have two very different reactions to being trapped inside the whale. Marlin beats himself nearly senseless trying to break out, while Dory relaxes and lets the waves carry her. Marlin begs Dory to be more careful, but in the process hears his own words to his son in a new light:
M: You think you can do these things, but you can’t, Nemo!
D (who claims to “speak whale”): He (the whale) says it’s time to let go. Everything’s gonna be alright.
M: How do you know? How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?
D: I don’t.
But they let go, anyway. Turns out, they ride the wave up and out the whale’s blow hole. The crisis that held them ultimately propels them forward… after they let go. So like the storms of loss and parenthood: sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing at all, to let go, ride the waves, and take the risk that something bad might happen in the faith the something good likely will.