Friday, December 30, 2022

Life and Loss

 It was like magic! I had just sat down at my desk to write my weekly column about “loss.” That subject choice was the result of a conversation last evening with friends, when we enjoyed extended endorphins, laughing about lost items. The loss in this case was two-fold; a phone and “the self.” The phone finally turned up in a box in a closet (with no clear memory of how it got there). “The self” (a folder with written materials forming a personal history), is still missing.

I’m told that memory loss is a common experience as one ages. That’s comforting, as it’s certainly more real in my life. At least two or three times a week my wife will say to me, “I told you that,” about a commitment we made or an event in the extended family. How I could forget so quickly or how it didn’t register is always a puzzle to me. Just as finding my self upstairs, trying to remember why I came there in the first place, is always a little disconcerting.

But here was the magic this morning! It just popped up on my Facebook page; bio-nutritionals!  It read, “How is it possible to remember our wedding day, but not where we left our glasses? Here’s the deal! The hippocampus part of the brain which transforms memories from short term to long term often becomes inflamed with age. This can lead to short-term memory loss, or frustrating ‘senior moments.’” 

Here was an ad for a nutritional supplement to help my hippocampus just as I needed reassurance all was not lost. The problem is, I’ve been reading Dr. Richard “Rick” Holmes book, “Life’s Final Season: A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace.” He has thoroughly drummed into my head the big three; diet, exercise and sleep. Avoid as much as humanly possible the drugs and supplements. Or at least, he says, consult with your doctor.

Besides, I’m convinced that losing things, being lost, and experiencing loss, are all part of the human condition; whether it’s losing the car keys, struggling to remember the turn-off to your friends’ house, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. I’m not convinced bio-nutritionals will help me with any of these losses.

Losing things can be instructive and force us to be more organized. I’ve always looked with envy and amazement at those people who have a well organized and exemplary tool room. The hammer hangs on the wall over an outline of a hammer. Everything has a place and returns to that place. Some folks have bookshelves arranged like a public library. The reader knows just where to look for that Kent Krueger novel.  

Being lost can also be a learning experience. I look back with some embarrassment on a trip into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I was leading a group of camp counselors on an overnight camping trip, a training exercise so they would be able to provide the same experience for their campers. We came to a split in the trail where we had three choices. We pulled out our map. As three or four of us consulted the guide the consensus was to go left. But as the leader, I was convinced we needed to go straight ahead. We did as I directed. And we spent an extra four hours reaching our destination, much to my chagrin, and setting up camp in the dark.

Of course, being lost on a trail is better than being lost in life. The rise in the incidence of suicide among the young; the use of mind and body numbing drugs and alcohol; increasing mental health concerns in the larger society; all suggest we need to reclaim purpose and possibility for our lives. The cultural mandate of pursuit of profit may not be enough!

Experiencing significant loss can be the key to understanding the fundamental reality of life; nothing lasts forever. We’d like to ignore that reality, or at least have greater control over our life and that of others. We’d like to discover the fountain of youth. We want to hang on to loved ones even when we know they are ready to move on. There’s a certain grasping in our nature that’s hard to release; an openness of the hands it’s hard to offer.

Whether one is Christian or not, there’s a certain wisdom in the passage attributed to Jesus in the gospel of Matthew: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

When one understands this passage as a call to a life of loving service, loss is not loss. Life is being fulfilled; minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Nothing remains to do or be! There’s nothing to lose. Even death comes easy!

Carl Kline

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