On October 6, 2006, I awoke to a strange thought about a vacation that my then-partner and I were to take in later on that fall. The thought that came to me was, "What if something happened to Jack? Would I still go?" I didn't pay the thought much mind as I had to prepare for a trip to Portland later that day where I would meet with a certification committee.
Within an hour, I had a call from Jack's nephew asking if I had heard from him. "Strange...", I said to his nephew, "No. Jack and I haven't spoken since Wednesday." In that moment, it occurred to me that this was nearly the first time in three years that we hadn't spoken for a few days.
"His office hasn't heard from him either", his nephew continued, "he didn't report to work yesterday and he didn't show up this morning. Something's wrong."
I spent the morning between packing, trying to preoccupy myself, and denying what seemed to be apparent. A few hours later, his nephew called back. "I'm so sorry to tell you this, but Jack was found in his hotel room. He's dead."
I tell this story to say that I am no stranger to loss. Big loss. I'm also no stranger to the smaller losses of jobs, of relationships, of privilege and status. We've all had experiences of loss, big and small.
A few days back a friend whose partner had died earlier in the year returned a message that I had sent him over Facebook. He asked how things were going for me, as I have recently moved from New York to Boston to live with my partner. "Things are great! I'm really happy", I reported.
"That's good to hear. Maybe one day I'll be happy again."
The conversation that unfolded could have happened with a number of people in close proximity to my life lately who are suffering through the grief and sorrow of loss. I've been holding this in my heart, because I have the sense that there's something for me to learn here, too.
Last Thursday, as I was getting ready to board a flight to meet an old friend in Dallas, I ran across this line from Desmond Tutu, "...in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing."
Even though Tutu was talking about inter-faith dialogue, the same can be said for our human experience. However, the honest confrontation with our human experience is not that we are defined by our loss. That's a trick of ego. The honest confrontation with the reality of our human experience is that this body is subject to sickness, aging, death, and separation. These facts are beyond our control.
However, just because these are beyond our prevue does not mean that we are helpless. What we can do something about is our actions, beginning with how we act in relation to our experiences. Do we cling to them and identify ourselves with them, be they pleasant or unpleasant? Or do we gaze at them with the awareness that there are many components to our human experience and that we can practice acceptance, love, and compassion with them all?
We have all encountered loss, over and over, big and small. And pain is a natural part of loss. However, holding onto the pain and letting it become a defining sorrow is a choice. And it might be a choice that we want to make for a bit so that others may take care of us. And then the time comes when we can choose to be happy and move on.