Wednesday, April 16, 2014

this loss speaks no disaster

photo by Mark Guy
O N E   A R T
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •      •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •      •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •      

Maybe the best indicator of maturity is the ability to lose. To walk away, to give up: demands, cities, dreams, rivers, people. I first felt the sting of real loss in my late twenties, a true friend gone—or, more precisely, divorced. It was both disorienting and freeing. I remember clearly the huge weight of it sliding off of me, and there in that open space the pain of missing someone I knew well. After that I could imagine losing other things with more ease. Trying on loss like a hat: this one or that?

But perhaps maturity is the ability to know what is worth keeping. Loss may feel less disastrous over time, but acknowledging the things which cannot be lost may be central to maintaining identity. Nearly three years ago I walked back and forth along a wooded stretch on our street, talking on the phone and crying. Not understanding why I was crying, but knowing that my best friend was in some inexplicable danger and that I could not follow her where she was going. I was surprised that I felt the pain so keenly: my body welled with anger, fear and loss. But I also felt confident we could ride it out; that our friendship would prove resilient, that she was resilient. And I was right.

We are six weeks from our move to Portland, but in significant ways the loss of New York has already happened. Our dear friends moved away a week and a half ago, a grief for us all but particularly the children. I watch as my son processes the absence of his best friend. I remind myself to be patient through the breakdowns and fits of anger, this is his first time losing something important to him. He is also getting ready to lose the city he was born in, his beloved nanny, and all his friends. I, however, am ready to go; this loss speaks no disaster to me. I can imagine our life in Portland down to the smells and the color of the light. The Hudson River may be sublime, but now I see her as a stand-in for the Columbia. The tangley woods of New England, however quaint and storied, lack the deep, wet stillness of a Douglas Fir forest.

Leaving New York is not really a loss, but just the turning of a page. I grew into an adult in this state—I learned how to party, to grieve, to be independent, assertive and beautiful here; I learned how to negotiate, to shovel snow, to parent, and to parallel park here. There is not much chance I will really lose New York when we leave. I will miss her and I will not miss her. There is joy and there is sorrow, they mingle together—it is no disaster.

1 comment:

Kevin Scherer said...

Beautifully written!