Letting myself go (by Billy Coffey)

The truth is this—men are just as vain as women, and maybe even more so. We look into mirrors, too. We primp and trim and flex. We do. Even me.

We understand the rules of inevitability. Time will march on and drag us with it. Hair will turn gray and fall out. The six pack will turn into a keg. And for the most part, we’re good with that. The point isn’t to stand in the breach and beat back the ravages of our days. The point is to walk with it gracefully.

Here’s another commonality between men and women—they’re both easily insulted when it comes to looks. I’m not talking about things like, “Dang, you’re ugly.” We don’t mind that. Things like that actually make us laugh.

I’m talking more this: “Dang, you’ve really let yourself go.”


From my own personal research, this is the single most destructive thing you can say to anyone, man or woman, from the age of about thirty-five on. No one wants to hear that they’ve let themselves go. They want to hang on and keep up. They want to master and not be mastered.

And yet as I write this, I’m about to do just that.

I’m letting myself go.

By the time the sun rises over the mountains in my front yard, I’ll be heading over them. For one very short and much-needed week, I’m trading country for ocean.

It’s a good trade.

Family legend states that my ancestors were fishermen and voyagers, brave men who sought refuge from a crowded world by fleeing to lonely seas. And even though time and circumstance has put the mountains in my blood, the ocean still calls to me. It doesn’t tell me to relax in the sand with a good book.

It tells me to let myself go.

It tells me to walk down to the shoreline and leave my stress and worries where the tides can whisk them away. To feel the salt air grip me and wrap me into itself to form a boundary both thin and unbreakable to keep the nasties away.

That’s why I go to the ocean.

Not merely to rest, but to find my better me.

One of these days, I’m going to figure out a way to bring that better me home. I keep trying and I keep getting better at it, but I just can’t seem to make it stick. Sooner or later, the rhythms of the waves begin to fade into the sound of wind through the trees, the salt air turns sweet with honeysuckle, and I realize I’m back home.

And then I think that maybe I’m not. Maybe this place, this small town nestled at the bottom of ancient mountains, is merely where I live.

Maybe my home is indeed among the lonely seas of my ancestors, where there is freedom and wind and sail.

Maybe not.

Because at some point those very ancestors dreamed of a day when they could put away their nets and trade their dreary lives for better ones in a faraway land where freedom was real.

No more Irish winters spent in bitter waters and tossing seas. They wanted the easier seasons and the fertile soil of the Shenandoah Valley.

Here I am dreaming of their reality, while generations ago they were dreaming of mine.

I wonder of us. Not just of them and me, but you and me. We are all wanderers at heart, always longing for more and new, when perhaps if we just let ourselves go, we’d find that less and the same is all we need.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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