The Art of Losing (and Winning)

Years ago, I used to do a lesson with my seventh grade students about objects we had lost. Students would begin to generate a list. They would initially record concrete items, socks, keys, earrings. As the class started to share their items, they delved into the figurative sense of loss and added pets, grandparents, patience, one’s mind, and weight to their lists. It was always an engaging and rewarding lesson.

Eventually, the students would use their lists to write their own poems, and, sometimes, I would share Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art,” which introduces the loss of items as “no disaster.” Initially, the speaker discusses losing keys and the time spent looking for them as relatively inconsequential, but throughout the poem, the losses become more significant. Ultimately, by the poem’s end, the speaker has lost a person.

The losses sustained in divorce are substantial. My own had been, and, at different moments in the process, I found myself sobbing for my marital residence, my dog, a husband, money, sleep, and most significant, time with my children. Each loss was heartbreaking. For so long, I felt the emptiness of the raw gaping holes in my heart.

Sometimes loss paves the way for a more rewarding future. It is a difficult realization to reach, especially when in the midst of a funeral for the life you had carefully and lovingly built, the life that had burnt to the ground. But the process of grieving is a circuitous one, and even in my darkest moments as I thought about my tremendous losses, I began to appreciate my gains. And I started to generate my own lists.

I lost conflict and strife, pervasive sadness, a rancorous house, nightmarish in laws, and an abusive husband.

I truly was 1000 pounds lighter.

I had lost a marriage, but I had begun to gain peace and a sense of contentment.

In my twenties, I felt like a charcoal sketch with an indistinct outline. Marriage and a husband gave me substance. And then, within the confines of my acrimonious marriage, even that charcoal sketch faded and the indistinct outline grew blurrier. But now years later, after two children and a divorce, I felt myself stepping off the page – strong, substantial, and vibrant.

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