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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

One More Loss to Master

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When I was younger, I lost a lot of things. Objects, mostly: mittens, hats, cell phones, books—many of which turned up in the lost and found or in the fermenting bottom of my locker, but some of which were never seen again. I wished that I could have one of those beepers that people use to find lost car keys, except on everything I had, so that when I lost things, I could always be sure to find them again.

Lately, I’ve lost a few things quite important to me. On the more superficial side, I lost a copy of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Utilitarianism that I annotated in my very first class on political philosophy, the class in which I fell in love with the subject, and the class that set me on my current path. Striking a little closer to my heart was the loss of my 2011 cell phone. The phone wasn’t such a big deal, but I lost quite a few pictures that I hadn’t been able to upload. That’s a loss I just try not to think about.

I’ve lost things closer to me, too, but for my purposes here, I’ll leave most of them out. I haven’t had a life extraordinarily marred by loss, but all lives are touched by it, and mine is no exception. I only have one grandparent left, and the vast majority of the friends and lovers who have walked into my life have also walked out of it. Perhaps the same is true of you.

My best friend is an avowed atheist turned devout Buddhist, and he reminded me again recently about impermanence and the pain that can come from attachment. It does often feel like we humans—or at least, I, Katie—demonstrate the value we see in things by how tightly we hold on to them, but that may not be the best way to live in a world where so much is temporary. There has to be another way to show that we love or value something than clinging to it for all we’re worth. In theory, we could show the value of something by trying to wring every last ounce out of it while we still have it. But that’s a slippery slope: how can we know that we have embraced something to its full potential? Isn’t there always more we could have done with the resources we had? Such questions seem to be unproductive and torturous in equal measure, but they hound me just the same. I don’t want to spend my life clinging to things or wringing them out, but I also don’t want to detach myself and simply watch as the things I value float out of my grasp.

This week’s prompt called for personal stories about how we Carls developed an opinion that we hold today. Mine isn’t one story, really, because as I considered the prompt this week, I found it hard or impossible to tell a linear narrative of how my opinions on loss developed given the variety of influences that have shaped my life. The best I can say is this: nearly twenty years of experience in losing things has not immunized me to the pain of it, and I don’t think I would want it any other way. I have found that mittens, hats, cell phones, books, and people all have their own great value, and accepting their impermanence, though necessary, is necessarily hard when we value what was lost. When Elizabeth Bishop wrote “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” it’s no wonder that her words came out with an ironic tang. And letting go of grief, it seems, is just one more loss to master.

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