By Mary Summerbell
It happens to all of us; we lose things in life. Things as tiny as a penny, a safety pin, a button off a blouse or shirt. Things as big as a car, a boat, a house. Things of every size and shape and value. Tangible and invisible. Money. Opportunities. Love. Things from so insignificant that we don’t, or barely, notice them, to people and things that give the greatest meaning to our lives – health, friends, family, work. Loss is inescapable because life is change and change means loss.
I lost something recently – an article I wrote for this newsletter. It was the last in my series of movie reviews from Beloit International Film Festival. I wrote it back in February, when it was fresh in my mind. I felt so good, so proud of myself, to write it so ahead of deadline. Good work, I told myself, for someone with major time issues. I remember putting it with my film schedule into a blue folder. (How organized is that?) And I said to myself, folder in hand, “I’m going to put this in a good, safe place where I can go right to it when I need it.” I felt downright smug. Until I went to get it and couldn’t find it.
As someone who used to lose a lot of things, I got very good at finding them. Looking for my article, I used all my usual techniques. I called in St. Anthony – patron saint of finding lost things. I’m not a Catholic, but I believe in Tony. He’s been good to me. I say the prayer my mother taught me – “Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and needs be found.” I repeat this and a mantra I learned from a friend – “Nothing is lost in the eyes of God.” Then I close my eyes and ask myself – “When is the last time I remember having or seeing this object? Where was I? What was I doing? Who was I with? Where was I going? What was I thinking and feeling?” I go into my body and ask it to tell me my movements back then. Then I look where I feel guided to go. All of this almost always works.
Not this time. I remembered everything clearly – except for the part about where I went with that folder. I went back and back and back into that moment, but my muscle memory was stubbornly mute. What I remembered was the process – my deliberation, and not the product – my decision. This is a typical, hindering memory pattern for me. I forget endings, conclusions, solutions. I forget the results, getting stuck in the struggle.
And stuck in the struggle I was. Losing the article was frustrating enough, but what was really annoying was losing it after the extra effort I made to take care of it. Extra effort should be rewarded – right? When we try harder we should get the results we want. Right.
Trying to lose that delusional thinking, I considered my options. I could keep looking for the lost article, rewrite the article, use a different finished article, write a new article, or not submit an article. No article was not a viable option. I didn’t want to use any previously written article. I didn’t want to try to rewrite the article because I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember it exactly, and close wasn’t good enough for me. And I still had time before I had to write a new article.
So I kept searching. For hours. Days. I was determined to find that perfectly worded, promptly written article. Looking through folders I found a blue one with this year’s B.I.F.F schedule in it, and old newsletter articles, but not the one I was missing. Looking further, I found a chakra wand and a delicate crystal, both remarkably undamaged, on the floor behind my desk. I found twenty-five dollars, and a pressed and dried five-leaf clover, (that didn’t bring me any luck finding my article.) Ironically, I found three pages of notes on “How to De-Junk your life,” which I set aside in a safe place for ready reference. I found enough dust to stir up my asthma, and still, coughing and wheezing and sneezing, I did not give up.
I certainly deeply explored the border between persistence and stubbornness – the land where passion becomes obsession.
Somewhere along the way I slipped into what I call the foolishness factor – the point at which we are so invested in a certain course of action that we almost can’t switch tracks, even if we know there are obviously diminishing returns in continuing what we are doing. My ego jumped right up, playing havoc with logic and practicality by wanting to be right, wanting to be perfect, wanting things to be exactly the way I wanted them. Wanting to find that article. And seeing anything else as failure, as defeat.
I didn’t find it.
My ego is still a bit miffed about this. Honestly, I still wish things had been different. I wish I had found my article, or that I’d been more flexible, more able to move on to another option sooner. I see that I was too attached to a particular course of action and a particular outcome. But common sense eventually prevailed, even if it wasn’t until I was forced by lack of time to stop looking for the old article and start writing this new one.
The Universe really pushed me in this situation, poking me with issues I need to look at. I’ve known it quite a while, but this is a clear, strong reminder that I hang on to too many things, for too long. I’m not very good at letting go of things – big or small, visible or invisible. If I want to grow emotionally and spiritually, I need to explore why I hang on so tight, and learn more and better skills for shifting with the unexpected in the moment, ways to better adjust and adapt to loss and change. Also, I’m not as organized as I’d like to be. And I tend to let perfectionism interfere with practicality.
But even as I was forced to face my shortcomings, something else was happening, too. I realized, as I was looking for my article, that I wasn’t panicked about the outcome of my search. I felt frustrated, irritated at myself, but also oddly calm. I felt confident in my ability to use any of the alternatives I had considered. Except for no article, they were all realistic options. I did not feel powerless; I felt I had choices.
What a change from how I used to be! Years ago this loss would have been cause for an emotional meltdown. I would have been upset, crying, cursing, beating myself up for losing something. I would have disturbed everyone around me with my difficulties…..But none of that now. I was disturbed, but not irrational or out of control. I told my family I lost my article, but I didn’t expect anyone to do anything about it. I wasn’t in denial, or blaming, or making excuses; I took responsibility – admitted it was my fault the article was misplaced. I wasn’t even mad at St. Anthony. That would be ungrateful.
I knew at the time that my search was not just for my article. I was consciously taking this time as an opportunity to review and evaluate some of the papers I’ve saved in my life. Looking through stacks and boxes of notebooks and folders I found class notes, journals, articles and poetry I’d written in the past. It was insightful, reading this and that. I began to see some things about myself more clearly.
From old class notes, I realized how much I love to learn, about such diverse things. I truly am, and have always been, a student of life. Seeing so much of my writing at once, I was surprised by how much I have written – some from so long ago it almost seemed like reading someone else’s writing. And I liked it! Time gave distance enough for me to see myself differently. I felt there was real value in some of the things I had to say, that it gave meaning to my life, and might have meaning for others. I felt encouraged by myself, in a way, and it renewed my desire to keep writing.
As I was holding the blue folder with newsletter articles in it, several thoughts came to me, the first being how many I had written. I thought, “Here is evidence that the effort I’ve made, the work I have done, far out outweighs the misplacing of one article.” I felt a real sense of accomplishment. And it occurred to me that losing the article did not negate the fact that I wrote it, or that I wrote it early. Those things happened, are still valid.
And I had backup articles! One finished and others started. This is not a sign of someone who’s slacking – or disorganized. In fact, as I looked through so many papers, I could clearly see a sense of order in most of them. I realized that I may not be as organized as I’d like to be, but I am basically quite organized. And I may not cope with life as well as I’d like to, but I do have coping skills and strategies. So I can always learn more, and try to be better. But – hey! – I’m not so bad as I thought I was.
It was as if a picture I’d been looking at all my life suddenly looked different. Everything in it was still the same, but the values of it had changed – literally like a negative from a roll of film had developed into a picture as I watched. What I saw on my weird little expedition was the difference between how I am now and how I used to be. I can see that I’ve made progress, improved over time. What a refreshing new perspective.
Now, as I work on my life challenges, I aim to see myself more as a whole person, with many diverse characteristics, rather than as being flawed or wrong because I’m human. Any trait can be a weakness, or a strength, depending on how we apply it in real life situations. And it is only as an individual that we can discern where the tipping point is for us, regardless of other people’s judgments or opinions.
I went a bit over the edge in this experience, but not so far I couldn’t bring myself back. And in seeking something lost I found something pleasantly unexpected – a better opinion of myself. I think it was worth the frustrating detour.