Everyone suffers from loss. We lose time, innocence, memories, youth, family, friends, lovers, relationships, opportunities, perhaps our dreams or hopes from earlier years. Loss may come from death, disease, or distance, anger or selfishness, procrastination or rushing through life and missing the important things in favor of being busy.
Earlier this week, I wrote this poem after a friend pointed out a duck on the side of the road as we were driving.
Dead Duck Dead duck, dead duck Hit by a truck Left out to get cold in the muck Tilted in the gutter Must have been taken out by a nutter Who had a splendid stutter And only wished to putter This way and that Oh, unearthly angle I won’t let them make you dangle On a stick to get cooked No, you won’t get hooked But buried under a pretty tree By the side of the sea At least you ventured from the canal To try and find your pen pal He tried to reach you too But was also hit by the truck boo-hoo You’ll remember this noble quest As you are laid to rest Finally alongside your friend Who lived just around the bend
It reminded me of the Chinese students I taught and loved seven years ago. The photo below is with one of them, who would be a full grown adult now. For over a year after I returned home I tried to keep in touch with some of them via QQ, but I had to uninstall the app when it started causing viruses on my computer. It made me want to cry. Nearly all my cute little pen pals were lost.
I recently realized that I’ve written a good number of poems related to loss, and most of these relate to other people. Some are about death, but most are about those still living. How do you overcome the loss of the way things used to be? Of the presence of someone who brightened your life who you may never see again, or who has changed dramatically, and perhaps you’ve had a fallout with? You may even mourn over lost pieces of yourself.
If you’ve been kept up at night by memories racing endlessly on your personal eyelid movie screens, dreamed about the past and woke up to realize it’s not true, burst into tears due to some unexpected trigger of scent or sound or sight, you know what loss can feel like. And oh, how difficult it is when sparkling parts of your imagined future get washed away like glitter down the drain and swallowed by a fish that ends up on your dinner plate one day and makes you sick.
Unless you want to have a lot of regrets on your deathbed, you may want to consider your relationships with other people, especially the ones closest to you, before you lose them. While there are things we can’t control, what we can is what matters. Three out of the five top five regrets of the dying, as reported by Bonnie Ware, an Australian nurse who cared for those in the last days of their lives, are about relationships. Check out the list here: Top Five Regrets.
So how can you get over what you’ve already lost or what you seem to be losing this very moment? Here’s what I’ve tried and would suggest.
- Be grateful for the good times. Find things to smile and laugh about.
- If you need to forgive (this may include yourself) do it quickly.
- Think about what you have learned or are learning.
- Write about it to process your feelings. You can delete the file, or tear up or burn that paper if you don’t want to keep it. I usually do though, so even if it’s too raw and ugly I could turn it into a poem later (that’s just me always thinking there is beauty in sadness).
Recently I’ve very much enjoyed listening to Haevn. I love, love, love finding individual artists or groups who perform with unique soul. There are so many who aren’t the most well known, at least in the U.S. anyway, but if they never are they may stay at their most authentic. This group’s music just melts away angst or anxiety, even if the song happens to be about the fear of losing someone, like “Back in the Water”. Go ahead, take a listen and tell me if you don’t experience a lovely calm.
The thing about loss, is that the more we care the more it hurts. Back in China I met someone named Joe. The poem I wrote about him will likely be featured in my second book (yes, I already have a plan for the second). He was 32 and tan and beautiful, and I was 23 and pale and my face was suffering from the effects of high stress coming from living on my own in a foreign country and dealing with roughly 1,200 teenage students at a time only a few weeks before. But this was my summer break.
It was like a movie as he ran up the balcony I was leaning over staring down at the party below, at the little summer school where I was studying Mandarin and he was teaching English. Something unexpected and incredible happened next. He knew my name. A friend tipped him off and being one of only a few Caucasians in tiny Yangshuo, I was easy to find. The ladies I was just chatting with faded away, and the two of us were alone in that space. He introduced himself and started talking. I’d never been so intrigued by anyone’s monologue before. He spilled out some sensitive information, not something you’d usually tell a stranger. Then he seemed a bit embarrassed about divulging what he did without knowing anything about me. We chatted a little after that and I saw him around in the days that followed.
Each time my teacher gave me a break at the same time he took a break with his class, I just beamed at the sight of him in the courtyard. I got his number and we tried to set up a time to do something together. He expressed great interest in that. Once he did join me and three others for a little church meeting and we all took a photo. But my friend who owned the camera lost it on their trip home. And Joe’s work schedule was crazy, and when he was off he went off to relax by himself, so we never hung out. He told me he was going to Ethiopia next. He was hopping around the world to figure out his life. Soon enough one day Joe was gone and there was no goodbye. I hadn’t learned his last name, and his Chinese phone number was no longer in use.
In 2015, reflecting on all of this, I wrote a poem for Joe. Later in the summer of 2016 I wondered if I might be able to track him down somehow. I sought out people on social media who were in Yangshuo in 2012 and knew him or might have known him. Most responded but didn’t know much more than I. I even got a contact to ask the person I was pretty sure was his employer to look through records for me. But they told me they didn’t keep good records of temporary summer camp workers like he was. Without even a last name, my search was hopeless. I heard back from one contact finally just the beginning of this year but learned nothing. I decided in 2016 that I’d give up hopes of finding Joe again and agreed to believe that some people are meant to be in your life in certain times only. But a part of me is a tiny bit sad that Joe will never read the tribute poem I wrote for him (even though I might be embarrassed if he did).
Losing Joe was small perhaps because I knew him so little, but every time I reread that poem, I love that lost Joe of 2012. I love what was lost. I love that photo of that morning we spent together, the photo that slid down the aisle to disappear on a turbulent plane ride. I love what he taught me about doing the right thing, and even taking desperate measures to make sure temptation didn’t get in the way (no, not with me silly, if that’s where your head was going). I love how he trusted me with his story. I love how he showed me the correct way, through experiment, to find out if something is true.
It’s important to focus on the here and now, but sometimes it’s okay to take a moment and love the lost. You might draw out something you’ve almost forgotten but want to always keep.