The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster…
True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.
There was a Lost and Found basket at the Caribbean Initiative Reflection Gathering in Trinidad, and during those two weeks, it became my best friend. I would return to the guest house each night to find I’d lost something—my ukulele, my notebook, a tube of chapstick—and, sure enough, when I’d return to Uncle Bobby and Auntie Annmarie’s home the next morning, the missing item would be waiting for me in the Lost and Found basket.
If only there were a big Lost and Found basket for the world…or at least one for each Island.
I don’t know if I could yet be deemed a Master in the Art of Losing (by Elizabeth Bishops’s standards), but I seem to be working towards a solid Associate’s degree. In the two weeks since returning from Trinidad, I have lost my camera, my travel mug, my computer case, a pair of sandals, our soup ladle (now, how in the heck did I manage to lose that one?), a bottle of sparkly nail polish, and both of my cell phones (which means, dear friends, that if you want to reach me on any other day than Thursday, you’ll have to send me a subliminal message. The phones are not lost in the technical sense—they just stopped working. I’ll send out word if they get fixed). And, of course, we lost our dog…but I’ve written enough about her already, haven’t I?
What is going on?
I guess I should acknowledge two things. One is that, as much as I’d like to blame the Bermuda Triangle-like phenomena of the universe, many of these “losses” (which I put in parentheses because they are, after all, quite minor in the grand scheme of things) are due to my own absentmindedness. Most of the time, I stumble through this world with my head in the clouds, and it’s highly probable that those two phones of mine stopped working because I spilled coffee on them without even realizing it. I must also admit that I am a person who has not yet experienced great losses (multiple little losses, yes, but not big losses). So when I lose something like a coffee mug, it becomes a drama of gargantuan proportions. I throw little tantrums in my head. I berate myself for my carelessness. I mourn. I feel like part of me is missing (well, that coffee mug was pretty much attached to my right hand).
It’s easy to get disappointed by these little losses. But there is a popular saying in the Carib Territory that every disappointment is a blessing. The first person who quoted this to me was my dear friend Lia*, who is teaching me how to lose, and how to find. Because to truly master this art, I think, is not to merely engage in the act of losing…but to find the grace within the loss. And to emerge from it stronger, more radiant, and a little bit less attached to the world.
Lia knows a lot more about loss than I do. She lost her childhood to homelessness and abuse. She lost her father to drugs, her mother to rum (both are still alive, but her father is in prison and her mother resides in an intoxicated fog). She lost five of her six siblings to adoption. She has even lost three pet dogs to poisoning, one after the other. This week, as I was crying over the loss of my sparkly nail polish, Lia lost the only means of sustenance for her family when the father of her children was taken away to jail (she is acutely aware of the blessings that accompany this recent “disappointment,” as the man was arrested after threatening to disfigure her with a cutlass…and it was Lia who called the police. She wonders, though, how she will feed her kids without their father’s monthly income).
Yet, through all of this she smiles, and she continues to give. When she obtains a bushel of ripe plantains, or a stick of cacao, she shares half with me and Roushanac. She never complains. She perseveres. And with every loss she sustains, her reservoir of strength only seems to increase. I watch in wonder as she weathers the storms life sends her way, and I’m reminded of this passage from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”:
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Now that I’ve thought about it a little more, a big Lost and Found basket for the world wouldn’t be too practical. Some things, after all, simply can’t be retrieved…and when we let them go, our load is lighter. And so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
In other words, as my sister posted on her Facebook page last week:
“Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the stars.”
*The same “Lia” I wrote about in the “Even as the shining moon” posting a few months ago. Her name has been changed.