The art of losing

Farewell, friend

Well, the move is over. I live in a different house now. I have woken up for the last four days and said, “This is where you live,” and tried to make sense of that. For someone who identifies so strongly with her home, moving feels more like the end of a relationship than a mere relocation. I left a house I still loved because we just couldn’t make it work. She was perfect for me — but she wasn’t, really, because Mark and I couldn’t afford her without a third housemate, and after our third third housemate left on bad terms we just couldn’t stomach trying again. But my brain compartmentalizes the bad experiences with housemates, and I remember the house as practically perfect.

I’m grieving her right now. She was a place of deep healing for me, and a gift to both Mark and me as we left the community where we’d lived for years. We both see our four years there as that — a gift, a place of beauty and rest. I want to open up my heart to my new house, new beauties, new healing, but first I need to grieve and to let go. I need to learn again the art of losing.

One Art

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.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
This poem by Elizabeth Bishop has been in my head and heart a lot these last few months. I feel really grateful for so many things in my life, but I’ve lost a lot of things, too. My health, or at least the illusion that I was healthy. My dream of a husband and children. The house in Maine where I spent my teenage years and thought my parents would live out the rest of their lives. My dream of a job in ministry.

The photo on the left is the exact moment I realized I was going to lose my couch, the place I’ve rested and written for more than three years. It wouldn’t fit up the stairs at our new place. It’s an art to let go, to say, yes, this is sad, terribly sad but it isn’t a disaster. It’s the rhythm of life to gain and lose, gain and lose, homes and couches, relationships and loved ones, the illusion of something you thought was true but never was. It’s something you need to learn, and practice, like the poem says. Start small, accept the loss of the the cover of your Pyrex container, which was probably thrown out in the paper towels it was packed in. Move on to the lampshade you really liked which fell out of the moving van. Then accept that the jade plant that fell over in the car on Monday, then fell off the windowsill on Tuesday, is probably too top-heavy to live very long in this world no matter how hard you try.

I woke up this morning in my new apartment feeling like I’d rushed into this relationship. I still love my old house  — what was I doing with this new one? I should be homeless for a while first, find myself. But of course I have to live somewhere. So I’m trying to find a balance between allowing myself to be sad and focusing on the positive. There are many beautiful things about this new place. I think of Maggie Smith’s beautiful poem Good Bones, in which the house is a metaphor, but the literal applies to me right now:

Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

It’s not a shithole here, but it’s not as nice as our old place, my old love. But I can make it beautiful. Making spaces beautiful is a gift of mine, both physical spaces and emotional ones. I know how to transform experiences into stories, suffering into redemption. I’m doing it now with this post.

Still, when I woke up this morning and told myself, “This is your new home,” it didn’t feel true. It felt nonsensical. I puttered around unpacking and cleaning, but it wasn’t working, at least not much.  I thought of One Art, and I thought of Good Bones and the poems helped. Then I opened Twitter and someone had shared another poem, called What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade by Brad Aaron Modlin. One of the things he mentioned in his beautiful poem was

— and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home.

This makes complete sense. It was the day I was absent in fourth grade, probably when I broke my wrist roller skating. Other people know how to do this, those who showed up punctually for class in the red-bricked grammar school. But of course, Modlin is kidding, that wasn’t taught in fourth grade or anywhere else, just like “how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts / are all you hear;” was not taught. We have to figure it out ourselves. But the poem told me that Modlin also has woken up in a new house, and told himself, “This is your new home,” and had trouble believing it. Other people have had, and are having, the same experience as me. I am not alone. That’s where the transformation is to be found; that’s where the redemption is to be found.

So I put down the boxes and mop, and open my computer, and write to you here.

***

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2 comments on “The art of losing

  1. amyptucson says:

    I am not moving (yet!!) but when I do, I surely will think of this post, and tell myself, “This is your new home,” and take some time to believe it.

    Like

  2. suzysims1980 says:

    I have awoken in my home every day for the past 10 years still in awe it is MY home for one more day. My husband, kids, and myself took 2 years designing this house. Another 18 months building this house. I have feared losing it too many times. So each day I wake up and thank God for one more day in our beautiful home. I hope to live out my life here, pass it on to our sons. Life throws us so many curve pitches, so many calamaties. But for today it is still my home. I hope this new place grows on you. Repot the Jade plant, make up some little pots with all the leaves that have fallen off to start new plants. Nurture them and watch them grow. Just as you grow into this new space along with them.

    Like

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