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Lost and Found

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.

—Robert Hass

 

I don’t like loss. It gives me the creeps. A few years ago, I bought Judith Viorst’s paperback Necessary Losses, which traces the virtual disintegration of our lives and tries to find the silver lining within.

I was so depressed I lost the book.

I went to New York for a conference a few weeks ago. It dealt with spirituality after 9/11 and tried to grapple with the challenge of creating safe places for spiritual growth after such a potent loss of a sense of safety.

A couple of days later, standing in the April wind on the plywood platform built along the edge of the World Trade Center site, words meant nothing. There are no words, any more than there are buildings there, or even signs of disaster.

People along the observation deck could speak of nothing else, as if to do so were a kind of sacrilege. I heard a little girl ask her father, “Daddy, did they dig out many of the alive ones?” And her father, not knowing what to say, said nothing.

I caught a snippet of a couple’s quarrel—“Why do you think there is any reason to take a picture of something that is not even there?”

And after visiting Ground Zero, you cannot go to the theater. You cannot go to a gallery. You cannot go to the Empire State Building. You hunker down with friends or colleagues as a way to absorb within your being the magnitude of such loss, next to which our individual losses seem mild.

Or at least, I began to think that maybe not all loss is the same. That there is something like redemptive loss, a loss that sets us free.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking that when I was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine the Sunday the conference ended. Nor would it have occurred to me that while we were singing hymns inside clouds of incense, some poor schlub was jiggling the trunk handle of a rusted-out Jetta and finding within a treasure trove of baggage.

I lost a lot of stuff in that robbery. Jewelry, glasses, cell phone, clothes, dirty laundry. And my Day-Timer.

Nothing has ever come between me and my Day-Timer before. Most nights, before I went to sleep I’d bring my Day-Timer into bed with me and check out what I had to do the next day. I’d record in those little calendar squares what I had done that day. I had little codes I would use and I always prided myself that I could look back at any day for the last 10 years and know exactly—I mean, exactly—what I had done.

Five of those 10 years were stolen with the Day-Timer.

It was kind of like having a time thief come in and take something away that I would never, ever have willingly given up. It’s a loss I can’t replace with an insurance check.

My husband left me six months ago. It was not a happy parting.

I didn’t want to give the marriage up. Like my Day-Timer, it represented years of my life. I had never wanted to give it up even when I knew, somehow, that it was making me sick, eating away the reserves of compassion with which I badly needed to nourish myself. But I was committed, committed like a medieval nun who thinks her anorexia nervosa is a spiritual discipline.

I wasn’t going to give up on the marriage. But then it was taken away from me.

And I have been so accustomed to all loss being pure pain, that it has taken me a while to see something new about loss—to see it as a lightening, a shot at redemption. Not to find a silver lining to the cloud of misery. Not to replace what was lost. But something else entirely—the chance to move freely, fleetly, into newness and discovery.

It’s easy to say that, of course. Living it is trickier.

It’s trickier because sometimes the familiarity of the emotional desert is more secure than risking the journey to fertile ground.

For example, the whole business of moving on raises lots of contradictory questions: How will I know I am an effective pastor and a loving mother and friend if I don’t write every blessed thing I do down in my little calendar squares? What if I can’t account for an afternoon? Does it mean I’m a muddled mess of a human? But do those calendar squares really prove that I am not?

Or, how will I know what I can expect from intimate relationships if I don’t make sure in advance to expect too little? On the other hand, since I have no problem indulging my love of champagne and berries, why do I figure an emotional starvation diet is the right one for me?

Tricky questions, but good questions. And my losses mean I can’t hide from them. What’s been taken away, without my consent, are the built-in buffers against the risk of intimacy and the knowledge of self-worth.

Robert Hass’ poem begins with the quotes about loss. But he is not content to let loss have the last word. It’s a theme in life; but until we die, it is not a death sentence. There is so much more, beyond loss.

There are moments when the body is a numinous

as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.

Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings

saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

—Robert Hass

 

—Jo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org.

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