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Learning Through Losing

December 4, 2010

If you’re wondering about the title, it’s because I can’t quite seem to force myself to put “Loss” instead of “Losing.”  I mean, just look at the word Loss for a second.




It’s a funny looking word.  And the fact that somehow in the English language we’ve taken a verb, “to lose,” and somehow changed it to a noun…  Somehow we’ve managed to take something that could be trivial and turned it serious.  Just because we changed it’s place in speech.  For instance, everyone has lost something.  I’ve lost everything from spatulas when I’m trying to cook stir-fry to jewelry people have brought me from overseas, like necklaces from Egypt, bracelets from France.  And then there’s always the incident where the goat ate my homework, which I’m pretty sure was the most thorough way of losing something that I’ve ever seen.  And no, I did NOT feed it to him.  Surprising, right?

But to experience a loss?  That’s a much deeper thing altogether.

We’ve all had them.  If you haven’t, let me know, because I would love more than anything to see how your life has been without it.  Most of the time, they’re what shape us, teach us, make us grow.  We define ourselves by what we’ve lost.  And not just losing a bracelet or necklace.  We lose people that have touched us and made us better.  Or it’s just that we think that we have lost someone.  One of my history teachers made a very good point, which is that history is rarely defined by what really happened.  History is often changed by what people thought was happening.  Wars start because people think that someone else is hiding nuclear weapons.  We think and feel like we’ve lost someone or something, and it changes the whole course of our lives.  “I think, therefore I am.”  I propose a change of classical philosophy.  Instead, let’s make it “I feel, therefore it is.”  Because for most living, breathing creatures on this planet, that’s how it is.  We can argue the case of sociopaths/psychopaths later.

But Loss– loss is a beautiful and powerful thing.  I remember in seminary when I was in high school we used to talk about how Trials were like the refiner’s fire.  It’s how Heavenly Father prepares us for greater things.  And from what I’ve seen, Loss is the Magnesium of all Trials.  Have you ever burned Magnesium?  Wear tinted goggles if you’re planning to burn large quantities; it might hurt your eyes otherwise.  We watch people go through their losses, and we instantly rush to help.

What happened?

Are you okay?

Do you need to talk about it?

Is there anything I can do to help?

And there’s often a little bit of a difference between what we say and what we feel.  What we say:

It really wasn’t a big deal. (And occasionally we give a full account of what happened with a nearly straight face and make it sound just like that: Of course it wasn’t a big deal.)

I’m fine/ I’ll be fine.

Don’t worry about it.  It’ll be okay.

Thanks, but really, it’s gonna be okay.  I’ll be just fine.

And of course, what we feel:

It was a HUGE deal!  Someone that molded my world is missing in action, and you want me to TALK about it?  Are you CRUEL?  I couldn’t convey this to you in words if you gave me every single word in every single language from every single continent across the world.  It’s JUST NOT POSSIBLE!

No, I’m NOT okay!  What about this would possibly make you think that I was okay?

What do you mean, talk about it?  It’s my loss, my pain, my burden, and you don’t need it, and I’m not sure how much it will help anyhow.  Talk?  What use is TALKING right now?

*Sniff*  Thanks for the thought, but no, there is nothing you can do to help.  This is my chore, my burden, my pain.  You can’t carry it for me.  And the truth is, I’m not sure I’d want you to even if you could take it for me.

Come on, admit it.  You’ve all done it too.  We’re fantastic liars.  Especially when we feel like there’s someone to protect from our pain.  I have never met someone that really wanted to burden someone else with their pain.  Or if they did, it was mostly out of a need for attention.  We’ve been known to invent our pain to get what we need sometimes.  But the pain of loss is not something that can ever be faked.  Guaranteed.

But there’s something very special about magnesium fires; they burn hot, fast, and bright.  Yes, we would rather not stick our hands in the fire.  But when we’re experiencing loss, it’s not just our hands in the fire; it’s all of us.  It’s hot.  It hurts.

You know how people tell you that time will heal everything?  And every single time you want to slap them?  But all you can really do is stare down at your lap with tears in your eyes or glare at them, depending on how well-mannered you choose to be.  Well, the fire does burns fast.  The pain will last for just a little moment.  By a little moment, yes, it may take anywhere from hours to years.  But in the scheme of your whole life or the whole eternities, it really is just for a tiny moment.

But the truth is that somewhere in the midst of the agony of loss, there’s something beautiful that happens.  Of course there’s the pain, the tears, the stubborn denial, the helplessness, the self-loathing, and the resignation.  And yes, it hurts worse than anything we’ve ever seen or felt before.  Even if we’ve been in the fire before, it still hurts.

But the fire burns BRIGHT.  At some crucial point in the course of our pain, we somehow make a choice, whether it’s a conscious decision or not.  We decide exactly how we’re going to deal with it, who we’re going to become, and whether we will let ourselves be scorched by the fire, or whether to be refined by it.  And if we make the right decision, the fire burns bright, and it’s suddenly beautiful.  No, the pain doesn’t stop until the fire stops burning.  No, we can’t control the fire.  But we can control what it does to us.  We have more than enough power to do that.  And there’s a chance that when the fire is done burning something beautiful will be left standing there instead of a little pile of ashes.

Yes, we all hate it.  Yes, we would rather not have it.  But here’s to the power of loss, whether we think that it’s real or not, whether we feel justified in feeling the pain or not, whether we understand why or not.  But because of the chance we have to learn, to grow, to honestly flourish, loss can be exquisitely glorious and beautiful.

And it teaches us more than we could learn in school.  I can’t remember the quadratic formula (really, I can’t, and I thought I was good at math), but I can remember how blessed I was to have people in my life that threw my sad little world out of orbit into a path that was even better.  I can remember what it felt like to love someone unconditionally, and what a gift and a surprise that was.  And I most certainly can remember how blessed I still am.  That’s probably not school-learning.  As a matter of fact, I would be horrified and offended if it was.

I don’t know if there are any life lessons to be learned.  I really don’t.  I don’t know if it can honestly be applied to life.  I very much doubt that anyone is going to read this and plan ahead and say, “Okay, the next time I lose someone in any way, I’m going to watch and I’m going to make the right decision at THIS moment, and then I’ll be able to grow and have wisdom.”  If you can do that, points to you.  But that’s far beyond my comprehension.  And if you have the time or energy for rational thoughts while you’re in the fire then I will have to be very much impressed.  But maybe, just maybe, someone out in the world somewhere will look at loss and see it for the glorious thing that it really is.  Hey, maybe I’ll even be able to manage it.  But I think I definitely have a lot more to learn.  But then again, who doesn’t?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2010 12:08 am

    Aw, so well put, Riv. I’m going to go back and reread this post again in a moment.
    And… loss is a noun, I never thought of that before. How interesting…

  2. December 6, 2010 3:10 am

    Deep thoughts. Beautifully put.

  3. December 16, 2010 10:18 pm

    Honey, where were you when I was in high school? Oh, what, grade school? Oh, right. Sorry. Can we still be friends, please?

    “I think, therefore I am.”

    We prefer to go with, ‘I doubt, therefore I may be’.

    If I remember rightly, when a particular tough time happened to me, Rivenheart said to me, ‘I don’t know how you feel, but I’m sorry.’ And that was one of the best things anyone could have said to me at that point. I read once in a list of what not to say to grieving people that you should never say ‘I know how you feel’, for the simple reason that you don’t. I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule that is always true, but it’s a good starting point. Do you REALLY know how they feel? It’s okay not to. You can be sorry (in the sense of ‘sorrowful’) anyway. I learned that the best ways of speaking in difficult situations is to say exactly what you’re thinking, if it goes along the lines of ‘I don’t know what I can say or do, but if there’s anything I can do, I want to make you feel better.’

    Someone once said to me that stones are only blackened by flames. I disagree. If the fire is hot enough, the stone is transformed. It’s only in a half-hearted, limp, tepid, lukewarm fire that a stone is only blackened. And if you’re only blackened, then clearly the fire isn’t hot enough. You don’t get changed by lukewarm. It’s the blistering, brilliant fire that does that. (Although it doesn’t have to be fast to be changing – think about coal and diamonds.)

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