The art of losing

This poem by Elizabeth Bishop has been following me around:

One Art

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.

You’d think there’s a learning curve to losing. A getting used to it, or at least wiser about it, which would mean being able to let big losses put small ones in perspective.

Yesterday I realized I haven’t mastered one bit of this art of losing. All I do is lose.

Yesterday it was my cell phone, the second one in the last 8 months.  A week ago it was a notebook with jotted-down ideas. A month ago it was a tooth. So, yes I lose plenty of things, in a steady stream things slip from my pockets, or my lap when I open the car door, or my body or my mind. I’m not getting better at it, though.

With all that practice, you’d think I’d be at least approaching mastery of healthy detachment and letting go. I wish.

It sucks. It feels like disaster, no matter that, on the scale of losses, all these are trivial.

It’s illogical how the shedding of things drags me down. And even more illogical how the losses seem to heap up. They feel cumulative and make me want to demand: If I had to lose that, then why couldn’t I at least keep this? Why is everything up for grabs and loseable?

So this poem that’s been following me around ridicules me. But since none of us is spared the pain of loss, Bishop is poking fun at herself, too: Losing is the hardest thing in life – and best padded in gentle mockery of our human struggle with our human transience.

That’s the only comfort: We’re all in this together. And we have each other before we don’t anymore. Thank you, Ms. Bishop.

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