During the week after Easter, I went to Alabama to visit my friends and my god-children. Eve, who is five, was proudly wiggling her front tooth, which was about to come out. I did not realize that this was her first tooth to lose, that she was, in fact, very excited about this mark of growing maturity. She kept wiggling it with her tongue, easing it back and forth, back and forth, until, a few days ago, she got it nearly all the way loose and called triumphantly for her mother to finish the job. Now she keeps poking the empty space with her tongue, seeking to understand this new person she is becoming.
Watching her, I found myself wondering when we become afraid to lose things. After all, loss is part of our life, essential to our growing. We discard our infant bodies, our light-up tennis shoes, our childish understandings. As children, we embrace all this eagerly, adopting more grown-up clothing, hairstyles, modes of speech.
And yet, most of us lose (yes, lose!) this early ease with loss. We learn to grasp what we must let go, to crave a stability that is death to us, not life. We close our hands and hold onto homes, riches, people, seeking to own and not to set free.
But Christ came to set us free. Like the man in the parable, we seek to build bigger barns to house our store of goods, rather than seeking the freedom to use what we need and to walk away from what might own us. (Luke 12:13-20) We shun our own growth, hold on to who we are even when that means letting go of the person we might become.
In the end, of course, we have no choice. Loss will come. We can meet it with our hands tightly clenched, or open them gracefully, even to pain, trusting that God will do something with the loss. Loss by loss, God strips away our immaturity, our impatience, our grasping desire to control. We lose our self-centered concerns, our lack of empathy, our arrogance. Bit by bit, God breaks open our seed-husk that new life may come. At the time, the seed knows only its dying. We who have seen the seed blossom know that we, too, will taste new life, not as we are now, but as God wishes us to be.
Elizabeth Bishop wrote it like this: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. — One Art.