Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Loss

I wrote this piece about six months before my first cancer symptoms, with no idea of the level of loss I'd be facing that year. Some religious traditions suggest taking even a little head cold as an opportunity to "practice dying." This loss felt huge; I didn't have a clue that it was just a practice.

I’d dreamed about a lost friend who’d decided we didn’t have much in common any more and moved on. When I woke, I thought about my mother, gone more than a decade now. Two huge losses. Later I placed a bowl of oatmeal in the microwave. My back was turned when the shelf above the sink began to slide. A bracket collapsed, and soon I was standing in shards of colorful Fiestaware. I began crying at the loss of beauty; my wails brought the cat. I held her close, both for my own comfort and for her safety; she didn’t need pottery chips in her delicate paw pads.
            I collect dishes, so it wasn’t as if there were no more bowls, pitchers, cups, or saucers. Some of the pieces—my grandmother’s cookie jar among them—had survived. I thought of folks in New Orleans and all along the Gulf, still digging out from Hurricanes Rita and Wilma. Sweeping up the pieces, I considered the biblical laments over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of Babylonians. My loss was comparatively small, but I felt kicked and sad, the way I’ve felt when my home or car have been burglarized.
            The dream, the memory, and the broken dishes of my morning seemed related instances of loss. I thought of the three lost-and-found stories Luke tells in chapter 15. A shepherd finds the one sheep lost out of one hundred; a woman finds the one lost silver coin of ten. A prodigal son “comes to himself” and goes home. With each finding, there is great rejoicing.
            What do we do with irredeemable loss? A few days ago I read an excerpt from the medieval saint Catherine of Siena: “Be happy. Be content—always, everywhere, in all circumstances—because every circumstance is a gift of love for you from the Eternal Father. That’s why God wants us to rejoice in every one of our troubles, and to praise and give glory to His name—yes, in everything—because God loves you with a forever kind of love.”
            I’m not quite there yet. But I’ve realized that loss gives us a chance to consider questions we might not otherwise entertain. I’m not sure, for example, that it’s a coincidence that I just finished reading Affluenza: the All-Consuming Passion. Anyone who has three sets of dishes, plus Depression glass and Fiestaware pieces, cannot claim immunity from this disease. Part of me wants to rush off to one of the nearby antique malls and replace everything I lost this morning. I think that a better idea is to accept the loss and wait awhile before I fill up the missing shelf space. Perhaps the past and our losses can’t be truly replicated except in dreams and stories.

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