Umbrellas implode. Socks and gloves disappear. Car keys jump from pockets. Phone numbers written on scraps of paper flutter away like birds. Dreams fade. Love dies.
By the time we reach mid-life, there is a long list of absences -- people, opportunities, aspirations -- due to departures, gradual or sudden. Some are causes, others are effects. We are catalyst and catalyzed.
I was reminded of this just the other day when a friend looked across the table over coffee and asked, "Did you lose your earring?" A reconnaissance mission by fingertip revealed a missing left earring -- one partner of a precious pair of gold half-shells given to me by my late father. Gone.
Although I wouldn't cry over a missing earring (at least not in public), that all-too-familiar refrain played in my head, with more lament than the chorus of a country song. If only I hadn't worn those earrings that morning! Why didn't I double check to make sure both were fastened securely? Shouldn't I have taken better care? Or maybe I should never wear those earrings at all, that way there would be no risk of loss. And while I'm at it, to keep from feeling any disappointment, I should just lock up my dreams like the good silver. Or maybe it's better not to have dreams in the first place....
To live is to lose -- at least some of the time. Thanks to that Shakespearean cliché, we know it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and those perennially upbeat management types tell us that failure yields the best lessons for achieving success. But it still stinks.
Losses -- even the small ones invested with oversized symbolic significance -- remind us of all the ones that got away (jobs, relationships...). In this particular case, it didn't take much imagination to connect my retraced footsteps through that coffee shop to my father who died seven years ago this month. On that short journey from my table to the door, I was reminded that the occasional loss is the byproduct of having been in the game.
The antidote to loss is hope, the quietly reassuring voice that says even if you lose, you won't become lost. Hope is the sustainer through all sorts of heartbreaks, over the lover who doesn't love back, the people who don't always accept who we are, and the outside world that doesn't line up in support of our dreams. (As a writer, I know plenty about rejection.) We'd stop trying if it weren't for hope.
And so, hope made me try one more time, asking the cashier at the coffee shop if anyone had found a gold earring. She disappeared into the back, the place where, I imagined, they count to six and then return as if they've looked everywhere, or where they laugh over the inane things customers ask like "do you have coffee beans picked by extraterrestrials" and "did anyone turn in my lost jewelry." To my pleasantly hopeful surprise, the manager appeared, key in hand, unlocked a drawer, and extracted one gold earring.
Did I put both earrings in my wallet and vow never to wear them again? Of course not. I reconnected that stray and wore my earrings all the rest of the day and the day after that and the one after that. Maybe one day I'll lose an earring again or it will break, just like the heart I sometimes wear on my sleeve along with those hopes and dreams I hold dear. But what else can I do? Hopes and dreams suffocate without being aired, even if that invites skepticism or rejection.
Besides, nothing is ever really lost. It just shifts in time and space, sometimes into other hands, but occasionally back to the rightful owner -- with a story and a life lesson attached.