If my life has shown me anything, it has shown me it’s much too easy to feel lost. To feel small, to get your heartbroken and feel defeated.
It will be impossible to avoid experiencing: loneliness, sadness, anxieties.
Moments of rage.
You will not be able to plan every detail of your unfolding. You will not always be able to control outcomes, decisions, and even your body.
You will lose.
Things. People. Ideas.
Cities, you once loved.
“All life is sorrowful.”
With eyes closed and mind quiet, Buddha spoke again,
“Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.”
When I was growing up my dad told me this often. I don’t know if The Buddha actually said this, but I believed he did. I believed The Buddha was good.
My first whole body sorrow was the loss of soccer. This feels slightly foolish to admit.
From the age of 7 until 21 soccer was my great love. I would sprint, dribble, and cut through the grass. I would breathe the outdoor air and exhaust myself into peace. I did this nearly everyday for 15 years. Then one day, it all just stopped. I don’t know how to explain the ( void? expanse? hurt? ) I felt. I can only say: The body craves what it’s used to.
Turning on the news today I see sorrows I can’t even fathom. I have been blessed with so much wellbeing and opportunity it seems unimportant to admit the sadness I’ve felt in my life. How privileged and childish to write about sorrow Emily, something inside speaks up. But I know that voice is not who I am and overcoming sorrow is worth talking about.
Around the time of my first loss I met the first poem I ever truly loved and it spoke of sorrow. Its inevitability but also its lightness. Many of you will know this poem. If you don’t, I teach it in the pōm club. It repeats:
The art of losing is not hard to master;
So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost
Their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster.
I didn’t know if I trusted these words. Their hope stayed with me anyway. Like an heirloom in a drawer.
I knew the poem was there, still I didn’t go to it often.
Only when I needed to. Now that I had felt sorrows’s lightness, I couldn’t forget the poem.
The sadness in me took comfort that it had taken Elizabeth Bishop over 17 drafts to finish this poem. Was she like me?
Did Bishop not know if the words were true?
Sometimes I wasn’t even if sure if the poem held the answer. The ending ambivalent. Was losing a disaster or wasn’t it? I wanted to know.
Then I lost my birthday buddy. G.P.
Five min before I left to his graveside service I had an overwhelming impulse. I wanted to read Whitman at his funeral. So I did. I stood on the grass and read: “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,/ If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.” Everyone looked at me strange; I felt my Grandpa was a crow hovering in the tree.
My ex (my longtime best friend, my first love) showed up to the funeral as a show of support and afterwards we ate burgers on Highland Drive. The eating establishment was near the cemetery. I’ve never been before or since. Weird enough, that was the last time I ever saw him. A decade of loving his slanted smile, he vanished. We did it. We needed to.The more unexpected thing, I forgot to remember our final moment of being together. This moment, after the funeral at Astro Burger.
I watched a documentary.
Marina Abramović and her lover needed to break up. They started at opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and walked for days to meet somewhere in the middle. When they finally met, they would know it was the time and place — the moment — to part. After this, my absent memory bothered me.
Where were we standing in the final moment? What had been said? Did we fight? Did we hug goodbye? It had eclipsed my mind. I had no memory of the last living moment with my grandpa either. On one of those last days I remember he was lying on his back in the bed. I fed him a slice of orange. The juice dribbled down the side of his chin and turned the corner for his neck.
Here I was in my late 20s and I knew I still had a lot of losing ahead of me. I was youthful. I was confused. What was losing really about? Was this dull ache adding up to something? Was there some greater reason for sorrow?
Shit. Is this what life was… to be joyful, disaster-less as you lose the things you love?
If this was it, why didn’t my losses feel more meaningful?
Maybe you’re here. Where I was. Maybe you haven’t quite reached this place. Maybe you’re already on the upturn. Your story of sorrow is different than mine. Heavier or lighter — it’s there. Loss is human.
Like loss, I can’t place the day or hour light enters. Enlightenment travels as breath, small sips, in-and-out as we walk our paths. Then one day there is a threshold. A bright gate. We pass through.
A moment when we can’t go back. This is the moment sorrow changes.
For me this was the gate of “making.” Not on the page, but in the world. It was the day my personal poetry arrived and never left.
There’s so much I want to tell you. The things poetry has given me — but poetry is personal. There is one thing I can tell you about poetry though, and it’s the most important thing to know. Life has shown me this too.
The easiness of feeling pleasure. The sunlight and wind on my skin. The eternal peace in falling snow.
If I could tell you one thing this would be it: Trade in your losing for making. It’s waaaayyyy better! It just is. It’s my key. My gate. I’ll say it again.
Trade in your losing for making.
When you enter the meaning-making by making the meaning, you become the meaning maker. That’s a tongue twister but it’s also freedom. Freedom from a lot of things, sorrow being only one of them. (Write it!)
This is important. Meaning. Making meaning. Making personal meaning. You wake up with hands that outpour over your life instead of feeling like loss is caving in on you. The rug stops pulling out from under your feet. The water flows from your palms.
If this story spoke to you I’m glad. As I sat down to write today, I asked myself, if I only had one day left on earth, one message to share, what would it be. Today this was spilling for you.
Artwork By Ernesto Artillo