Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Necessity of Loss

The Necessity of Loss
I’m reading a book by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor called “Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story.” The authors are yes, mother and daughter, and much of what was said resonated with my own experiences as a mother- and as a daughter. I was deeply moved by an insight that Sue, (the mother) was working her way toward for the whole first part of the story-- it was about Loss.

Her ‘doorway’ is in examining puzzling feelings of loss regarding her daughter –while they are traveling together. At one point she says:

“I tell myself the bereft feeling that washed over me means nothing- I’m just jet-lagged, that’s all. But...I know the feeling is actually everything. It is the undisclosed reason I’ve come to the other side of the world with my daughter. Because in a way that makes no sense, she is lost to me now. Because she is grown and a stranger. And I miss her almost violently.”

The story is a travelogue full of intense dreams, joy, grief, conversations and mysteriously mystical occurrences. Underneath it all there is this edge...this impending sadness, like a minor chord in the soundtrack of a film. And then there is this aphorism, like a glossy, irregularly shaped pearl: Loss is Necessary.

Necessary. This really struck me. Loss is necessary.

It’s odd… I don’t know why this struck me with such impact. On the surface it doesn’t seem all that different from a lot of what I say. I’m always talking about things coming and going- arising and passing. I’m always encouraging people to notice endings. To notice loss, to make room for grief, to make use of all of the little endings in life instead of dismissing them or pretending they aren’t happening.

I’ve spoken a lot about how we never get to practice losings and endings because we are surrounded by a surfeit of *new things to buy* and an injunction to pursue the fiction of permanent, eternal youth. If you don’t like your (fill in the blank…anything from toothbrush to ‘significant other’), just get a *new* one! I rant at times about this cultural proclivity, and I crave an alternate approach.

BUT…This idea of “loss” as “ necessary” has really got me engaged. I guess it’s like any deep investigation into a truth that is HUGE. It’s not as if one can say “okay, I got that one. Give me another of the ‘Great Truths of Life’ to work on.” For the RBTs (really big truths), one could spend a whole life refining an understanding of them. It’s just that I never said it that way… “Loss is necessary”.

I’ve thought of loss as inevitable, yes. As something to adjust to, be present with, learn from, accommodate, acclimate to… Yes, yes, all of the above! Still, with this insight, “Loss is necessary” I can find in all of those actions a subtle reactivity to the feelings of discomfort around loss.…an overall grimacing belief that loss is a kind of emotional hurdle and that the value is derived in the integration of the ‘bad’ feelings. I am seeing how this assumes a pejorative nature of loss.

Loss as an adversary. When my mother died, I remember that at first I felt it was just somehow wrong to be in the world without her. It was a weird ‘biological’ thing…the person who carried me inside her body was no longer here…so how could I be here? Then of course there were many other ways of coming to terms with the loss of her … revisiting the losses that we experienced over the course of our relationship…the loss of future experiences. And the loss of the chance to ever make peace together for some of the more difficult wounds we dealt one another.

Accepting all of these losses as necessary is giving me another angle of perception. It’s a kind of ‘wide angle’. It goes along with a direction I give myself whenever I’m struggling too much with a particular problem. I say “Okay, Get Bigger, Marian”…get big enough to see this from a distance away. Get a perspective on it.

From the personal angle, the death of someone we love can just feel wrong….and in the case of violent deaths, “untimely” deaths, deaths of children, etc, it’s understandable to think that. But with time, and having the awareness tucked away in our psyche that ‘loss is necessary’ there can arise the holy balm of acceptance. It’s just what is. Blame is gone, shame is gone, denial is gone. It’s just what is. Loss happens. Surrendering to what is can be very freeing.

If I think about my own losses and my struggles with those losses, I see that accepting the loss as necessary clears the way for me to settle fully into the self I am now, without whatever it is that I’ve lost. This doesn’t mean I don’t hurt. It just means I’m able to relax and allow myself to move forward again…forward into the period of growth and fullness that inevitably comes around.

If loss is necessary then …we don’t have to struggle against it. How about that? We can skip the extra mental suffering that comes from seeing it as somehow wrong, and begin to see if as a naturally occurring phenomenon. Something that just is.

Maybe what Sue Monk Kidd meant about loss is that it’s necessary in order to make our passage. It’s necessary so that we can realize the full measure of our humanness. Loss is the coin we’re given to ‘pay the ferryman’ for the trip across the chasm to the far shore.

Comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about losses in your life.

Until next time…

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Memoriam

In Memoriam
When I was researching for this article, I found conflicting listings for ‘The First Memorial Day’. Most agree it originated after the Civil War. Stories range from wives and daughters placing wreaths on the graves of their lost loved ones to freed slaves burying Union prisoners of war and then organizing to honor them. Doubtless there was simply a welling up of grief for the loss of lives and the devastation of homes and families after that War was finally over. Historically we know that a fraternal organization of veterans of the Union army who had served in the Civil War officially proclaimed that May 30, 1868 be designated as Memorial Day and flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. It took 22 more years before all states observed it.
So that was the beginning…
“Storewide Memorial Day Sale”
But let me ask you…what do you think of when you think “Memorial Day”? I’m guessing it’s picnics, sales, and a three day weekend, as much as it is remembering soldiers who have died. As a nation, we are oddly removed from the visceral sense of grief and loss of our soldiers. A columnist in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. makes an interesting point about this. He says; “Our major wars -- particularly the Civil War, which gave rise to Memorial Day, and World War II -- were in some sense mass democratic experiences. They touched the entire country. The same cannot be said of our more recent conflicts.”

I’ve been turning this over in my mind and I see the truth of it. Not that we have no consciousness at all about the current fight-that-we-don’t-call-a- war, and the number of soldiers who have died. And yes, there are places all over the country where war dead are honored today, including and especially our nation’s capitol. But there is a deep fatigue and disillusionment regarding the current deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a nation we are uneasy these days, and divided in our social responses to men or women in uniform. There is much more of a sense of the waste of young lives and a mistrust of the motives and methods of the conflicts we are involved in now, and much less unity –less of that ‘democratic experience’ that Mr. Dionne writes about.
Non-Soldiers dying in a Non-War
The number of civilian deaths (I won’t call them ‘casualties’) is also difficult and wearing on soldiers. Reasons and ideology around these military conflicts are debated endlessly, but soldiers are still deployed. There is no clear sense of victory or of when it’s all going to end. There are troubling reports of a real lack of guidance or support in processing the daily eroding doses of grief and anger and loss and confusion that soldiers face.

Death and grieving. There are so many of us walking around with so much unhealed, unexpressed and often misplaced grief. It might even be said that one of the causes of war is misplaced unhealed grief.
The first step in healing grief is acknowledging the death. The visceral reality of death.
Memorial Day is a national opportunity to do this. I know it was established to honor and remember soldiers who have fought and died…but I also know that when one death is honored and acknowledged, it opens the door to remembrance of all of the other deaths that have occurred in one’s life. Memorial Day is, then, a national day in which we are ‘allowed’ to think about death and to mourn and grieve in whatever way feels right. But because of this weird disconnect that pervades so much of our culture around death and grief, what do we do? Party and shop! I’m not saying we should be ‘dismal’ today…but it would be good to have a balance here! Is there another way to honor this holiday of remembrance?
National Moment of Remembrance
How many of you knew that in 2000, then-president Bill Clinton issued this memorandum?
I hereby direct all executive departments and agencies, in consultation with the White House Program for the National Moment of Remembrance (Program), to promote a ``National Moment of Remembrance'' to occur at 3 p.m. (local time) on each Memorial Day.
I can’t say I’d ever heard of it but I can’t help thinking “What if we actually did this?” Like those tests of the “emergency broadcast system”…what if, on radio and tv, during parades, music festivals, in shopping malls,wherever, what if we actually had this?

National Moment of Remembrance? Can you imagine in the midst of shopping, if the entire mall’s public address systems were used to announce this moment of silence for remembrance? What might occur if, as a nation, this was established and became commonplace? Would it spark more of them?
“ Memorial Day” sparks “Memorial Moments”
Imagine people sharing more small moments of silence together. Moments in which you knew it would be okay to be thinking of someone you loved who had died, because everyone else was doing that too?
It would be like practicing something really difficult, (facing death) - all together. Everybody would be included because everybody has at least an ancestor who has died! Everyone!
Eventually it would have to change the way we think about death, wouldn’t it?
Remembrance, Shared Grief, Peace
What if after a whole lot of these moments we came to PEACE in our remembrance of someone we love who has died? And what if that peace spread outwards? It could happen…

I found these words on a bookmark the other day:

“Inner Peace~A personal solution for global transformation”
Global Transformation. Yeah. I like the sound of that!
If you missed the moment of silence on Monday don’t worry, you can do it anytime..right now, for instance. It’s never too late to cultivate a little Inner Peace.

Until next time