Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Art of Losing

One year ago today, something of great value was lost in Roxie's World. I refer, of course, to myself -- or the embodied version of myself, which slipped free of earth and pain and the encircling arms of my heartbroken humans shortly after 7 PM on the penultimate day of 2009. (Read all about it here, but have a hankie or three handy. My typist still can't get through that post without weeping.)

(Photo Credit: Moose, 12/20/09)

"The art of losing isn't hard to master," Elizabeth Bishop insists, repeatedly but not convincingly in her lovely poem "One Art." The poem begins with the trivial losses of objects such as keys and urges readers to "Lose something every day" in order to learn the lesson that "loss is no disaster." It gradually opens out to include objects of great sentimental value -- "my mother's watch" -- and cherished dreams or plans -- "where it was you meant to travel." It ends with the most devastating loss of all, that of a beloved "you," whose voice and gestures are recalled in a poignant parenthetical remark that exposes the speaker's bravado for what it is: an effort to contain and deny the disastrous consequences of loss upon the self. Poetry itself is caught up in the futile endeavor, as the poem ends by asserting yet again that "the art of losing's not too hard to master / though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster." That parenthetical "Write it!" is the giveaway, the proof that Bishop's speaker is seeking but not finding the consolation of form, even in the tightly crafted villanelle structure of the poem. Write it! as if that will make it so, but it does not, cannot. The loss does not merely look "like . . . like" disaster. (The poet's tool of analogy is so inadequate here that the word "like" must be repeated.) Loss is a disaster, dammit. Writ[ing] it doesn't change or mitigate that fact.

And yet, sweet humans, you court disaster daily, persisting as you do in attaching yourselves to creatures who will, even if they don't betray or abandon you, eventually be lost to time, slip out of your grasp to a place beyond touch or tummy rub. Loss will master you, and all the art in the world won't protect you from the pain.

Perhaps the wiser course of action is to stop trying to protect yourself from the pain. Stop trying to pretend it isn't a disaster. Call a spade a spade. Accept the fact that the only way to get through it is to go through it. Moose stumbled across a bit of Intertoob wisdom on this very subject this morning, by way of a Facebook friend. It comes from a place called DailyOM, which sounds pretty hippie-dippy, maybe even a little reverb10-y, but its emphasis on the need to "sit with our sadness" really resonated with Moose, because she has found herself so resistant to the compulsory happiness of the holiday season this year --- for some reasons that have been discussed in this space and others that haven't. Believe it or not, we don't tell you everything, darlings. Deal with it.

The point of "sitting with our sadness," according to the (unnamed) poster at DailyOM, is that in doing so we open ourselves up to "deep learning." (Don't roll your eyes. You know that's true.) The post continues:
Sitting with our sadness takes the courage to believe that we can bear the pain and the faith that we will come out the other side. With courage, we can allow ourselves to cycle through the grieving process with full inner permission to experience it. This is a powerful teaching that sadness has to offer us the ability to surrender and the acceptance of change go hand in hand. 

And it concludes with this nifty bonus pearl of wisdom:
Another teaching of sadness is compassion for others who are in pain, because it is only in feeling our own pain that we can really understand and allow for someone else's. Sadness is something we all go through, and we all learn from it and are deepened by its presence in our lives. While our own individual experiences of sadness carry with them unique lessons, the implications of what we learn are universal. The wisdom we gain from going through the process of feeling loss, heartbreak, or deep disappointment gives us access to the heart of humanity.
Yeah, we distrust universals, too, but it's hard to deny that our own losses make us more compassionate toward others reckoning with sadness or sorrow. If we wall ourselves off from the pain of our losses, we reduce our capacities for empathy and connection. Loss is part of what makes us human. To deny loss is to deny the love that made the loss possible and meaningful. Trust me, darlings, you do not want to do that.

"Well now everything dies baby that's a fact," declares Mr. Bruce Springsteen in a little song called "Atlantic City." The next line offers the hope that fuels Springsteen's and this humble blog's stubborn romanticism: "But maybe everything that dies someday comes back."

Maybe everything that dies someday comes back: The proof is right in front of you, isn't it, my pretties? I am here for you, as I said I always would be. Meet me tonight and every night -- in the undying space of Roxie's World. Peace out.


  1. Hey Rox,

    Yeah, it was almost exactly a year ago, right down to the second, that I gave your embodied self one last kiss. I didn't want to let go. But it's true. . .one can never know love if one refuses to know loss. Would I forego your love, my Mama's, or Kersh's in order not to feel the pain of the loss of your fleshly selves? Hell no. I never will forget walking into this house a year ago, hugging your bro, and then, and then. . .hearing the silence of your leaving. No, of your being gone.

    Thanks for this. . .this that proves we're still in the kiss, now aren't we?


  2. still in the kiss -- Why, Goose, that's the sweetest, most poetic thing you've ever written! And the truest, of course. I lick your face, for all of eternity.

  3. Existence is dialectic. Without pain there is no pleasure. Without loss there is no love. Without death there is no life. Without poetry there is no prose. And without thunderbird there is no chateau d'yquem.

  4. Candy Man1:14 AM EST

    Beautiful post, Roxie. We're thinking of you here in Sydney. Though you never visited this part of the world, I can imagine you chasing the waves and rolling in the sand, saying hello to the koala cat who lives on the street next door. Much love to you and the moms!

  5. June Starr11:19 AM EST

    Yes, a beautiful post, in keeping with the spirit of this day.

    If we were in Washington, we'd "take a cup 'o kindness yet" with the moms. Instead, we'll take one with them in spirit.

  6. my favorite not pretty-ing things up person of spirit says with some similar concern:

    Pema Chodron: "Bodhisattvas practice 'in the middle of the fire.' This means they enter into the suffering of the world; it also means they stay steady with the fire of their own painful emotions. They neither act them out nor repress them. They are willing to stay 'on the dot' and explore an emotion's ungraspable qualities and fluid energies -- and to let that experience link them to the pain and courage of others."


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