Every Man Loses
Posted on August 31, 2011
This is what I have learned: every man loses. He loses his baby teeth. He loses his toys. He may lose his first love, he will probably lose his virginity. He will surely lose his temper more times than one, his job, his wallet and his keys. He will lose control. He will lose sleep. He will make bets and will lose some of them. After a while, he may lose his hair and he may once again lose his teeth. Soon enough, he will lose friends, family members and loved ones. He may eventually come to lose his sanity, his reason and his dignity. But he will most certainly lose his life. Every man loses, but, every man must gain as well and it is what that man does in between that defines his forward movement. It is how he tempers the loss with good sense that matters most. These are notions from a mind that wishes he knew then what he knows now.
My great-aunt passed away this week. She was an amazing woman, a beacon of not only hope but strength and fortitude as well. She was eighty-eight. I was exceptionally close to my grandmother – having lived with her for the last eight years of her life and was present at the unfathomable moment of her life’s end. After my grandmother’s passing, her sister, my great-aunt, took on a somewhat commemorative quality. To be in the presence of my aunt was to also be in the presence of my late grandmother and because both women were remarkable, the pleasure was doubled. So to was the pain when the former went to go reunite with her departed sister not four days ago. Now, there are no ‘great’ or ‘grand’ relatives remaining and an entire generation has gone to wind.
Such a profound loss effects a man deeply; strikes him at his very nucleus. When his core is shaken so, it becomes a challenge for him to temper his loss with any constructive judgment or rationale. Yes, he may have the support of a companion or the solace of a loving embrace but no less painful does the presence of a confidant it make. Does not the wind wear away the stone face of a cathedral no matter the strength of its buttresses? And so, how is a man to know the proper route through such a dimly lit and gloomy maze?
A man can lose all the keys, jobs and wallets imaginable but there is not a tangible object invented yet that can prepare him for the loss of a life. Do we not learn from loss? But what sort of character growth can we hope to obtain from such trivial displacements as these? As the loss becomes greater, so too does the wisdom gained from it. But does one not need the wisdom first, to bear the loss? Will we forever be one step behind fate? Likely. But, perhaps the anticipation of such a loss can mitigate the sorrow of it. To be forewarned is to be forearmed; and so, I find a certain refuge in the following concept by Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master:
“You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
A man’s loss is a writer’s gain.
Of all the idiosyncrasies and self-deprecating habits I employ as a defeatist writer, perhaps the most distressing is the inferiority I feel concerning the relatively smooth and colorless life I have led up to now. It is often argued that a writer’s work is influenced greatly by his own life experiences. If this is even partially true, from what reservoir is the dull writer to pull forth his readable tales and compassionate characters? Fiction is drama. And so, what drama can be expected from the author who has seen but little of it?
Take a look at some of the greats: Oscar Wilde was a socialite and a homosexual in a very conservative time. He was arrested for sodomy, tried for buggery and, upon refusing to flee to France, served two years in prison. He spent three years in exile and was separated from his wife and sons and died poor of syphilitic meningitis. Hemingway? His father committed suicide, he was married four times, fought in world war one, he was wounded, decorated, knew world leaders, refit his boat into a warship, survived a pane crash, fought in world war two, was decorated again and survived another plane crash. These men knew drama, they knew loss and they knew what it was to let life shape art. They experienced the full spectrum of human emotion and condition. Such a rich and plentiful bag of muse they had from which to harvest real and honest characters and venues. Not that they necessarily had to write about exactly what had happened to them, but what did happen to them gave them a certain insight into the measure of a man and how far he could go before he broke. They comprehended more accurately how loved ones react in extraordinary circumstances. The world is formed by the ebb and flow of cause and effect and these men witnessed more cause and more effect than other duller men. So, you see, it’s not the experience that inspires a writer’s truthful word, it is what that experience showed him about mankind.
I’m not exactly chasing loss or heartache, but, when it is thrust upon me by the crafty hand of fate, its value is not entirely neglected. When life hands you a lemon, right? The recent death of my aunt blotted out the shining sun above my cheerful day, it made bland all the wonderful latin flavors I placed upon my tongue, it warped the lens through which I observe the world. These tools: the sun, my sense of taste, my outlook – they have an immense impact on words which I write and the tales which I weave. Thus, the reverberations between life and art are impossible to ignore.
I suppose if I were given the opportunity to choose between inspiring loss and inert bliss, I would choose bliss, for blood runs thicker than ink, but my writing would forever suffer for it. It is a hard thing for a man to bear a loss, be it a wallet or a life, but the time comes when he must make the best of things and move on. Mourn, recover, create.∗
Originally published in Digital Americana