Tomorrow night I’ll be speaking at our church on the topic of loss. The foundation of the talk will come from the book I’ve written titled The Right Kind of Pride. The book addresses dealing with loss in a positive way.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that a sense of anxiety hits when you lose something. If it is a material object, you search until you find it. If it remains lost, you go through a period of mourning. This is all very natural. However some people deal with loss better than others.
With small things like a set of gloves or something else lost in the hubbub of daily life, we might smack ourselves in the forehead and try our best to move on. This past week I lost a pair of gloves during a trip to the health club. I thought perhaps I had left them in the small cupboard by the drinking fountains at the gym. So I called to ask if the gloves had turned up at the Lost and Found. The desk personnel told me there was no sign of them. The next two times I went to the club it was north to the St. Charles location to swim, so I was not back at the Batavia location for several days to check for the gloves. Plus I figured that by them my gloves had either been lost somewhere else or been taken by someone who used the cupboard hole where I’d left them.
Last night when we arrived to lift weights it occurred to me to check the cupboard to see if the gloves were still there. Sure enough, they were right where I’d left them. They were jammed up against the back wall of the lowest cubbie on the far lower right of the cupboard. No one had apparently seen them in there.
I was quite grateful to find those gloves. I like them. They’re wool with rubber nubbies on the hand surface to help you grip things. They cost $20 at Gander Mountain and they hardly showed any wear from this winter. That meant they were good for another season or two.
In March of last year I’d lost a favorite pair of gloves that I had worn for five consecutive winters. It pissed me off that I’d dropped them in some dark parking lot the night before. I went back to look but they were gone.
I try to be careful with my stuff because I really am absentminded at times. My brother recently told about his system for checking stuff as he moves about in life. “I have systems guarding my systems to check my systems,” he said. Made me laugh.
As an inveterate pocket-checker I’ve got my own little systems. But life has a way of interrupting our thought processes. Sometimes our diligence winds up being our undoing. Several times I’ve locked the keys to my gym lock inside the locker. That’s an example of all the systems working in reverse. Not good.
However my day had gone extremely well yesterday. I felt truly engaged and in tune with life. Some business research had turned up a potentially productive partner for a program I’m putting together with a media company. The rapport and solutions they offered appeared to be everything I needed. Then my swim session when great as well. Yeah baby!
So, I had hope but no real expectation that my recently lost gloves would turn up where I remembered that I’d left them.
Recovering something lost always seems sweet. But some things we lose can never be recovered. The day that I tore my ACL the second time I knew that there would not be a second surgery. Not all over again. That meant giving up the ballistics sports I loved to play. Basketball. Soccer. Tennis. You name it. If it involved cutting hard to the right or left, doing activities that required hard pivots would be out of the question. I went through a period of very real mourning for the self that I knew had been lost.
Still I worked hard to re-strengthen the knee and learned that there were still plenty of things to do without an ACL. I could cycle. I could run (thank God) and now I can swim. At 50+ years old my ballistic sports days were numbered anyway. The ligaments and joint flexibility necessary to excel at those sports simply diminishes with age. I can no longer jump as high as I once did.
At one point I witnessed in bold relief how far my own skills and speed had been lost. That came about by playing soccer on the same team as my son when he was in his early 20s and I was in my late 40s. He could steal the ball and score with ease. It made me realize how much life had slowed me down.
Yet it was all relative. Just the week before I’d played, a teammate turned to me and asked, “How old are you? You don’t appear to have lost any speed.” I had told him: “I can still run fast. I just don’t have the brakes to stop.”
It’s all relative, you see. So much of our sense of loss and purpose is relative to our perceptions of who we are and what we can do. That’s the thing about loss. Sometimes the things we supposedly lose actually open up new chapters in our lives. We re-invent ourselves. We learn to live with loss because it sheds light on what we truly value. Perhaps we gain more through the experience of loss than we might through business as usual?
That was certainly the case with my late wife and I. We lost all kinds of things in eight years of cancer survivorship. She lost the ability to do some of the things she wanted to do. We bought her a new bike but riding bikes turned out to be tough. Even walking for fitness was nearly impossible at times. Her feet were so numb from neuropathy due to chemo her balance could not be trusted, especially in the dark. We just did our best. She was a gamer.
In order to deal with loss both temporary and permanent, you need to develop a sense of perspective about loss as you go along in life. So many times our losses are not so important as we think. Yet if our losses do turn out to be profound, such as the loss of a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a marriage or a friend, then it’s all the more important to examine what they truly meant to you. As you can imagine, there are no easy answers to some of those questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help coping with loss. We all need counsel to help us through life. Some depend on friends. Some on faith. Most of us need some combination of both.
Our losses ultimately cause us to consider the very meaning of our lives. We lose material things and come to realize that those are not what defines us. For if we are spiritually healthy, we realize that we are founded on something else entirely. It is this internal sense of self-respect and soul that we need most to protect. We do not want to lose that. Ever.
That is why it is so important not to raise our athletic endeavors to the status of life or death propositions. It is fine to challenge ourselves and build a positive self-image through the sports we do. But you can lose yourself in the process if you are not careful. I know that I have done so in the past. There is still a propensity to do that in the present.
A friend of mine just experienced a nearly fatal cycling accident. Life is random and things like that happen so fast you have no time to consider what it might have meant to slow down in the moments before calamity. I’ve crashed at 40mph going downhill with bike wobble. I’ve run head-on into a tree with my head down thinking too deeply about a business project. Both of those incidents could have turned out much, much worse.
It simply doesn’t take much to lose ourselves in the sports we love.
The sad and difficult thing is that life is also random and unpredictable. We lose things when we can least afford the inconvenience or thought required to get them back. Suddenly we’re faced with a world that looks entirely different. Yet as we come to grips with what the loss might mean, we also are forced to sense the core of our being.
It’s true: loss is ultimately what we’re founded upon. Life demands that we process that fact. As I’ve always told my children, “Enjoy the process.” That’s literally all we have. All that has gone before is lost except to memory. All that is bound to happen ahead can only be gained by going through it. Then it too is lost.
I count myself blessed to have won a few things in life. Races. Championships. Business deals. Yet the things I have lost have also built character, defined values and given me reason to try again. Our losses are quite often our greatest gains. And you can forgive yourself for knowing that.