What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Rest assured, I wasn’t the only Martin bested by a pit of clay. When we were kids, the arrival of spring’s warmer weather motivated Saturday outings to a place we lovingly referred to as the Death Cliffs — a section of high muddy riverbanks near our home in southwestern Ontario (and not nearly as terrifying as its moniker suggests). 

On one such outing, my brother Nicholas, my sister Meghan and our cousins Jonathan and Adam found ourselves a particularly sloppy clay pit and took turns doing cannonballs into the mud. Before long, however, Meghan found herself waist-deep in the muck — and very, very stuck.

It crossed our minds that since Mom had so many other kids — I’m one of eight children — she might not even notice if we returned home without Meghan. In the end, though, we decided against abandoning her and set about freeing her from the mud. With a slippery grip on her wrists, we hauled with all our might. 

Unfortunately, the play clothes Meghan chose to wear that afternoon included a pair of hand-me-down sweatpants with an elastic waistband well past its prime. And as a result, the more we attempted to pull Meghan from the mud, the more her pants would fall down.

And so every time we made headway, Meghan would feel herself losing her bottoms and pull her hands away so she could hoist them back up. And of course, every time she did that, she’d just sink back into the clay.

Caught between the total embarrassment of losing her pants in front of her family and being stranded in a pit of clay for all eternity, Meghan broke down into tears as we repeated our futile attempts to get her out with her dignity intact.

Eventually Meghan’s survival instincts overpowered her mortification. Accepting her fate, she stopped trying to hold her pants up while we pulled her out of the mud. In the end, I saw way more of my sister’s bum than I would have liked, but she was finally free.

Meghan’s muddy misadventure reminded me that although it’s hard to let go, clinging to something can prevent you from moving on and getting past an obstacle. Yes, letting go of her pants was a tough call. But it was ultimately the only way for her to free herself from being stuck.

Unfollowing an ex on Facebook may be what you need to move on from a past relationship. Letting go of the expectation that your work will always be sunshine and lollipops can free you from resentment and disappointment. Being willing to sell your house can give you the freedom to pull up stakes and move across the country to take your dream job.

In my late 20s, my sticky pit was leukemia. And getting out of it meant letting go of all sorts of things. I handed off work projects so I could focus on my treatment. I gave up drinking alcohol to ensure my liver could perform optimally as it processed the chemo. And I declined invitations to parties and weddings to avoid catching a bug in my immunocompromised state. 

Yes, letting go can be challenging — whether it’s bad habits, unhealthy relationships, mistakes or even your pants. But it’s also often a prerequisite for meaningful change. In short, overcoming adversity and becoming who you want to be takes the guts to leave behind the things that are holding you back.

Next: Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience