My favorite poem by Robert Hass is "Meditation at Lagunitas," which begins
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
Friday night I went to the Sunstone Chritsmas party, my first Christmas party of the season, and perhaps my last.... I was also invited to one last night, but I couldn't make it. No other parties are scheduled for the next few weeks except a few celebrations of ME, 'cause, you know, Jesus's birth isn't the only one celebrated in December.
Anyway, there was a conversation about New York Doll, a documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, which I wrote about several years ago in an entry that garnered lots of very interesting comments. There were people at the party who had never heard of it, and those of us who had seen it tried to explain what it was about and why someone should watch it. I mentioned what I said in my entry: that when I heard David Johansen sing "Come, Come Ye Saints" I burst into tears and sobbed until I couldn't breathe or sit up.
This struck some of the other people there are strange. "I didn't cry when I heard that hymn," one person said. "Not at all."
"You're still active in the church," I said. "You still get to sing that song as part of a community that values it. It doesn't represent a loss to you."
Loss ebbs and flows. We get over loss to some extent because we have to, and because time, if it doesn't heal all wounds, at least changes them. But our experience of loss starts not with the actual loss, but with our awareness that it WILL happen.
I remember 20-odd years ago, when I was awakening to the fact that my fiance was going to dump me. I couldn't prevent it; I couldn't get him to admit it; I couldn't even talk to him regularly about other things, because he lived 6,000 miles away and transatlantic phone calls at that time cost several dollars a minute, which far exceeded the budgets of each of us. I also couldn't move on, because the loss hadn't happened yet. And because it was so huge, and so horrible, I also couldn't prepare for it properly.
Earlier this year someone I love very much was very, very ill and very nearly died--in fact, she would have died had she not received the best medical care available in this entire country, paid for by some of the best insurance in this company. What would it be like to live without this person? I could barely pose the question--and yet, I HAD to confront it--even though I sort of thought I had. She has been ill for over a decade, and I know this disease she has will kill her--probably within a couple of years. And I sort of thought I knew what that meant. But when we thought her time left on this planet had to be counted in days or weeks instead of months or years, well, it was all very different. I was incapacitated by grief over a loss that was not yet final.
Loss anticipated is pretty damn awful. But it's busy. It's active. It involves effort and striving of all sorts: to understand and prepare for the future, to assuage grief (one's own and that of others), to minimize and mitigate the loss in any way possible. Loss experienced is SO FUCKING EMPTY AND FLAT. It's that weak, wrung-out, utterly spent and desolate feeling you get after you puke your guts out so thoroughly that nothing else can come up--except the feeling is magnified and intensified and applied to your whole life. Something valuable and necessary is GONE, and there's still this obligation to toil and labor, to journey on toward some end that isn't as whole and rewarding as it once was.
Loss is the result of attachment, and precisely what Buddhism is designed to help us overcome.
I'm not going to be like Bella Swan in New Moon and sit, catatonic, staring out my window for the next three months, or wake up screaming every night for the next six months, but I do feel pretty fucking empty and flat right now, having ceased to anticipate a loss and instead accepted that something I invested in is GONE. It might not strike some people as a big deal, because my investment in it was brief in terms of duration, but the scale was pretty large in terms of intensity, and I also invested with quite a bit of joy. And now I see that it's gone more thoroughly and completely than I imagined possible, and that other things have disappeared with it.
I wish I were better at being Buddhist, but I'm not. The little bit of solace I can find in all this right now is that I get it, that I at least understand what I'm up against.