As we grow older, we become more familiar with loss. In fact, loss becomes a close friend; slowly, an old friend. We know the certain curves and scars, becoming familiar with the voice – it’s specific cadence- and we eventually even recognize the back of this old friend anywhere. Sometimes we can see loss coming our way. Sometimes it shows up unannounced and takes our hearts by storm.
When we are young, there is little we cannot do; our potential is great. We blossom into freedom and bloom into a world that yearns for us to display our own, distinct beauty. The world beckons us to come running. In our youthful eagerness, we cannot wait and we run as fast as we can into our lives. We run into the future with anticipation because, in fact, there is very little we cannot do. But time brings us choice. And therein lies the problem (or, rather, the path to loss). The more choices we make, the more we narrow down who we are -who we can become- because every choice is a renunciation. A million other choices are forsaken for this one path on which we find ourselves walking.
After years of choices we find ourselves moving down a path. Some of us could see, with certain clarity, this path before we actually walked on it. Some of us move through the fog of night, seemingly guided by a force outside of ourselves. We move by trust. Flashes of light illumine the path in front of our steps.
There comes a point in everyone’s life when they stop running. It is a crossroads where we learn to walk. Soon, we savor every step, even wishing we could retrace and relive our rushed steps. Growing into the people we are becoming is never easy. As we grow, loss takes away pieces of ourselves, pieces of who we used to be. And, so, we learn two things: we learn to fight and we learn to grieve.
Learning to grieve isn’t fun; it’s the act of letting go. We acknowledge what it is we want, what it is we expect, what it is we hope for…and then we acknowledge the lack and the loss. We stand before an uncrossable canyon where we find, down in that canyon, the discrepancy of who we could have been and who we are. We face our limits: our inabilities to make it across the canyon. We learn we are limited creatures -that we cannot do everything- and we learn we must let go.
When we look behind ourselves, we find we cannot go backward for the ground has crumbled. Behind, there is nothing for us except paralysis -pillars of salt- and a beacon of light shining forward from our failures. So, with our gazes set to the horizon, we fight to become the apparitions of our desire. We take ambitious steps. Yet, with our gazes set to the horizon, we look beyond and see the distant ghosts of who we could have been. We grieve, seeing on the other side of the chasm, the vibrancy of their accomplishments, relationships, and identities. They are the choices we did not choose. They require of us, only now, grieving.
After some time, our human potential is noticeably depleted from when we had originally set out. We become less and less as much as we become more and more. Possibilities are exchanged for realities. The river of flowing potential crystalizes into actual. We have lived an actual life.
And that life becomes our familiar possession -an old stale hat, sun-soaked and sweaty (hopefully well-loved) -that we have worn for some time now. Bit by bit, death steals its little thefts from us: our actual liveliness (our what is) as well as our potential (our what will be). These thefts teach us we cannot control even our own life as much as we thought. These thefts, come to us under the guise of loss.
As obstinate creatures of persistence, we fight against loss. Afraid, we run. Disbelieving, we cling to life. But still, we find ourselves containing less and less: we contain what was and what used to be. We have sold (or been stolen from) our actual and our potential (what is and what will be) along the path we walk.
As gracious creatures of acceptance, however, we embrace loss. Afraid, we grieve. Adjusting, we are gracious of what was given us and find ourselves thankful for more and more: we contain what was good and what used to be great. We have freely given our actual and our potential (what is and what will be) along the path we walk.
Perhaps grieving allows us to see the thefts of death and to let go, becoming potentially free to give. When you freely give what is and what will be you may find that those things soon belong to the strange figures you see walking in the city streets you used to own. Perhaps a baby rolls by in a stroller staring at you inquisitively, dubiously, and you wonder if this helpless, precocious infant will, some distant day, be the one to save you on your deathbed. You are thankful. But that day grows closer, faster than you think.
Even now, you are becoming something that exists “no more in time.” You are moving onward, outward from the center of the world bringing heat and light but becoming something coming to cool —coming to equilibrium. You are giving yourself away. Each day comes, passes through you and your only option is to move in disharmony or harmony with the day’s passing. Your only option is a gracious loosening or a frightful gripping. We all grow cold. But, do we give our heat away freely, letting our graciousness become a warmth? Or do we cling to our heat, fighting the inevitable theft?
The path forward is not fighting but an embracing of grief. It carries us down into the canyon. Beyond grief resides acceptance. Beyond grief resides resilience. Beyond grief resides grace. And, beyond grief is the path out of the canyon.
“People can grow stronger and clearer in the absence of something, as when you chop down an old spruce and the vegetation around it receives more light and nutrition and a new chance to bloom.”
– Therese Boman
*Post inspired by Wendell Berry, No Going Back