the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
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
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
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
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.
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.
can contact Jo Page at