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How to Lose

Do you know the poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop? I know it; I know it as though it were tattooed on my right wrist, as though it were something I read first thing every morning. It’s one of my very favorite poems of all time because of the way it flows so beautifully and lyrically that you could almost forget the horrific nature of the subject.

We lose a lot in life – many things inconsequential (a sock, a race with a friend, a silly bet) and some a bit more important (a job, a piece of jewelry that had sentimental value) and still others so heavy with significance and meaning and need that the loss of them hits like a knife wound that will never heal.

I’ve lately had the misfortune of knowing several people during a time of such loss. My heart goes out to them, aches for them, because I myself have lived through such loss – and as much as I wish I could tell them that the pain will go away, the truth is that it never really does. The pain lives forever; we just learn how to tuck it away someplace safe, someplace that allows us to forget it for a while. And over time, we become so good at the forgetting that we are able to maintain it for weeks, months, even years at a time. The forgetting becomes more natural to us than the remembering, and we are able to literally ignore the pain away until something – a photograph, a song, the smell of bread baking – rips us from that carefully formulated state and throws us momentarily back to the time when we couldn’t wake or walk or sleep or breathe without feeling pain.

It’s difficult to find comfort in times like those. It’s times like those that lead many of us to self-medication, to desperate attempts at numbing the incessant pain. For me, one thought that helps a little is the reminder that I am not alone – that every single person on this planet eventually knows what sudden, shattering, take-your-breath-away grief feels like.

And here’s one more – one more drop of comfort that I actually stumbled upon today, by way of a friend. She was mourning, in writing, a recent loss and she said, “You were worth it. You were worth the immense heartbreak we feel now,” and those words struck me as so true that I felt my eyes well up. Because isn’t that the point, the entire ebb and flow of life – to find the type of joy and love that makes the grief worth it?

So maybe, the next time you yourself feel ripped from your carefully formulated state of forgetting, remind yourself how veryworth it it all was – and how lucky you are to have found the sort of joy, love and beauty that make it worth it to feel such immense pain.

Oh, and if you’re still looking for that poem, here it is.

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