text © Jonathan Zap
Life requires skills of both detachment and engagement. One must strike while the iron is hot, and a life well lived provides molten metal glowing in the forge of each day.
Every day you are provided molten metal that you need to engage with and shape with your will, creativity, inspiration, perseverance, and whatever else you got.
But molten metal does not usually stay molten and in your particular forge. Once shaped, it cools and hardens and becomes a particular thing which may be taken away from your forge.
Croupier is a brilliantly done, contemporary film noir with an anti-heroic protagonist who is a croupier, of course, and quite cynical about the ways of the world and human nature. The one virtue I remember him having, though, is a shrewd card player’s sense of when to hold them, and when to fold them. What has stayed with me from that movie is the one line of truly soulful wisdom that the croupier states as his life philosophy: “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.”
The most poignant way this principle applies in the movie, and so often in life, is in the interpersonal domain. For a time a connection opens between you and another person and it is like a molten alloy glowing with heat and light in the forge of linear time. But the composition of the alloy, and many of its metallurgical properties, are unknown to you. You also can’t be sure if it got to you through an industrial process or through some more mysterious and magical form of manifestation. The alloy could turn out to contain both industrial toxins and magical properties. What makes this alloy both radioactive and divinely radiant is that it is not an object, but a subject.
The molten alloy of a relationship is a third subject with a will and a life cycle of its own. At a given moment it may be shaped more by one person or the other. One person sometimes strikes the first hammer blow, or the last, but neither fully controls the process.
The alloy of two people is an alloy that has never existed before in the history of the universe. No one fully understands the composition and properties of this alloy.
Of course, the world is full of ignorant and stubborn blacksmiths who think they can shape unknown alloys with the hammer blows of their will. Hardening into shape on the forge of such blacksmiths are misshapen, brittle objects. Sometimes their hammering just leaves a pool of molten metal that drips off the anvil and through the cracks in the floor into oblivion.
To work with unknown alloys you must start with a realization of your incomplete knowledge of this mercurial third subject alloy. You recognize that there are at least two blacksmiths, and your hammer blows may sometimes harmonize, and sometimes work at cross purposes. Neither blacksmith is in full control of how long the metal will remain molten, and what shapes will be formed. Recognizing the mercurial ambiguity, you nevertheless engage the molten metal with everything worthwhile that you’ve got. You hold on tightly, but recognize that it is a shape-shifting alloy you are embracing, so your grasp is not white-knuckled. When the shape-shifter retreats, you let go lightly.
As it is with relationships, so it is with many of life’s aspects and endeavors. For example, if you are the most gifted of Olympic swimmers, the metal may be in its most molten state between 18 and 28. At 38 you might hammer away at the moltenness, but will never make an edge as sharp as what you were able to forge between 18 and 28.
When a relationship, an ability, an endeavour, a whomever or whatever, loses its moltenness, then let go lightly. If you don’t, you won’t be fully engaged with the moltenness in the forge right now.
There is one molten subject that is always in your forge. You, you are the molten subject always within the reach of your will. You are also an alloy of industrial and magical processes with properties you know and properties you may not know or that are yet to be fully determined. Every day you must shape and reshape the molten subject, you. So your forge never lacks for molten material in need of work. Besides you, it is likely that there are other molten objects and subjects in your forge this day. Don’t neglect them, and don’t overwork them either.
Hold on tightly, let go lightly.