Today has been a crappy day. Not end-of-the-world crappy, I’ve had much, much worse, but one of those days that just seems to grate at a man’s soul like a splinter that won’t shake itself loose from the palm of your hand. Or that shaving cut right on the edge of your lip that stings every time you smile or laugh. And ironically, its on a day like this that I find myself tackling a topic that bears a similar feeling of methodical anguish… that of loss. Two things prompted this subject, and as the cosmos is neigh to incline, both entirely random within quick succession – a suggestion from someone I’m growing fond of and the ending of a video game. Different aspects, but both along similar lines.
In our lives, we will lose many things. We will lose pets, loved ones… we will outgrow our favorite T-shirt, we will outgrow relationships with those we truly cherish… our favorite car will become rusted and dented, the factories that once fueled a thriving city will grow silent and crumble. For we as a people are Ozymandias, king of kings, look upon our works, ye mighty, and despair.
So what makes up ‘loss’ as we perceive it? In general terms, its the removal of attachment; life’s way of ripping off our band-aid unexpectedly. Sometimes we expect it – we watch the health of our family pet deteriorate over the course of months and then feel something … gone. Other times its just taken from us – suddenly, without warning, without any trepidation on the part of anything or anyone.
Last year when I was in Las Vegas, the city of glitz and glamour, in my room at the Mirage getting ready to head out to breakfast, my mom and step dad called to tell me that their dog, well, our dog, Zorlene, named after the dog of our guide on our first Alaska trip, had passed away. At first nothing registered… I felt like I had just been told the weather report. Then it hit. That feeling of the band-aid being forcibly removed from me. I cried. Deeply, passionately, and in such force that I felt like less of a man inside. We’re sold on the fact that men can’t cry, they can’t show emotion, they can’t be anything less than the stoic warrior, jaw jutted out into the reaches of the world ready for the next challenge, the next battle, the next war. ‘Be brave!’ they call to us, be resolute, stand fast upon your perch!
But the truth of the matter is that we are not always resolute; we will not always stand fast in the face of agony. While I understood conceptually that Zorlene was gone, that I was 1500 miles away, and that I would never, ever, get to lay on the couch with her one more time, the anguish of that feeling drove me to tears. But what really hurt me, more than the loss itself, was that I had a feeling I didn’t act on. See, the weekend before I left for Vegas I had gone down to my parents house to spend a night in the country and see them before I headed out on my first great DefCon journey. And as I was leaving that Sunday morning, I was struck with an inclination that as I walked out the door I would never see Zorlene again. I honestly can’t tell you why, or how, or what even brought that feeling on. It was just … there. Inexplicable, unexplainable, but omnipresent. And for a second, I stood on the threshold of the door, looked back at Zorlene with a grin on her face, tongue dropping out of her mouth, and I could see love in her eyes. For the briefest of moments I felt her looking at me; no, not at me, but into me. Right then I thought to myself “I need to walk back in there and give her a big hug and just tell her I love her and what a great dog she is”. But I shook it off, what kind of man would feel such nonsense, and dismissed it. And for that… I wept.
I won’t, or can’t, say that was God sending a message to me or that fate wanted me to have that moment. I believe in certain things, perhaps one day I’ll tackle my spirituality in a post, but today I choose to abstain until such time as I feel its within my understanding to comment. But that defining moment I will never forget, nor will I forget the tears that flowed as a result.
Anyone reading this will be familiar with loss. Even as a young child we grow aware of it; our blankee that we clung to as a toddler gets left behind in Gettysburg, our favorite GI Joe vehicle gets broken, the plastic rear wheels on our first Big Wheels trike begin to crack from miles upon miles of 180 degree spins in the driveway under the watchful eyes of our parents; “look mom, look dad, look at what I can do!”. Loss is a constant in our lives – you’d think you’d get better at it when you’re 32 years old.
But the truth of the matter is we will never get better at it. I could quote you the Kubler-Ross grief model and its 5 stages, I can tell you what to expect, hell, anyone can. We’ve all experienced it. Friends, family, counselors, et all, can help guide you through the process. But within ourselves healing comes down to one simple thing – the acceptance that without loss we cannot continue to provide love to that which happens next.
As everyone fundamentally knows the world changes. We along with it. The man I am today is not the man I was yesterday, or the year before that. In essence, each loss we feel impacts us and churns us to find new connections, to spread love to new places, like a bee pollinating flowers in the spring; its quite an apt metaphor. But to make room for those things, we have to let go of what was before.
In my life now I know of several people who are working their way through divorce, an illness with someone they love, or on the flip side, people who have already worked their way through those things. And as they emerge on the other side of pain, of remorse, of anguish, and the blurry light filtered through their tears begins to clear they find other things in their life to which they apply their love. It may be a day, a month, a year later. Everyone has their coping strategies to get through loss; booze, drugs, cigarettes, self destructive behavior, throwing yourself into your job, cleaning your house… they are all distractions to forget the loss, but not really heal it. Time heals all wounds, a popular quote I’ve heard, and said, many times this year and sometimes find myself iterating in my own mind as I ponder events in my distant past.
But perhaps there is another way; maybe, just maybe, the answer to loss is to love those around us more dearly? To scoop up your children in your arms and tell them you love them. To go play ball with your dog for that extra hour. To plan a trip to see your family in another city. To take a close friend to dinner one night just because and ask nothing in return.
In my life I have known many people afraid to love. And I’m not talking just in a romantic man-loves-a-woman sense; I mean to love the things around them – to have a favorite T-shirt, to have a favorite car, to have a pet. Many people, more than you would think, fear the emotions of loss so much that it leads them to never fully engage with an open heart the things or people in their lives. I could comment on how fruitless a life that must be, but I’m not really sure I need to. I think you can feel it for yourself if you merely close your eyes, and soul, to the world around you. It’s an ugly, disgusting feeling entirely devoid of that which makes days like today melancholy; for without great days, and great highs, you cannot begin to understand lows. Many people mistake the goal of life as finding the serene waters of contentment, and as a shortcut, that if they truly do not love, they truly cannot hurt. But isn’t the lack of love still losing? Instead of avoiding loss, you willingly suscept to its embrace… but without the interleaving joy?
When I was young, maybe 9 or 10, I had this favorite T-shirt, a wonderful 80’s number in turquoise blue-green. But I loved that shirt fiercely, it just fit perfectly and I really loved the soccer ball logo on it. But because I loved it so much, I was scared to wear it. So after a year or so, and only having worn it a couple times, I finally worked up the courage to wear it out regularly… only I found that it didn’t fit. And as a 10 year old, I learned that you must embrace the things in your life you enjoy, care about, or maybe even love. Don’t leave them on the shelf as I did… when you finally work up the courage to experience it, it may be gone. Ironically, that same philosophy has brought me no end of frustration in dating but as with spirituality, that’s a topic I’ll abstain from for the time being.
So, in way of conclusion, I pose this to carry with you as you experience joy and loss:
It is not about remaining happy, it is about pollinating flowers, about the evolutionary creation of new bonds, new love, and new life, and to do such things we must make room in the finite space of our lives for those new things to occur, and those who sacrifice love to avoid loss do nothing more than burn a picture to prevent themselves from obtaining the ashes.