Losing What You Never Had

You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

Louise Gluck, Vespers

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, One Art

This has been a year to grow fatigued by loss. The relentlessness of disaster has magnified the very real losses of life, of health, and of livelihood. Strangest of these losses and perhaps the most inconsequential is the loss of that which we have never had. With loss of travel, connection and gathering has come a raft of grief for things we never had.

I lost a summer to bushfires. As an Australian, that was expected. Fires happen in a dry continent. However, the scale was extraordinary and skies grey or orange with acrid smoke belonged more in Blade Runner 2048 than the Melbourne suburbs.

General Petraeus, when the death-count of American troops
in Iraq was close to 3,800, said ‘The truth is you never do get
used to losses. There is a kind of bad news vessel with holes,

and sometimes it drains, then it fills up, then it empties again’—

Andrew Motion, Losses

As I prepared for my first trip to Seattle in over a decade, the Coronavirus pandemic broke out there and I lost a trip to see much missed colleagues and much loved family. This early warning and the worrying news from China meant that I moved my work to home before my city faced its first lock down. I began to miss my rituals and my regular haunts from the morning coffee to a lunchtime trip to a bookstore. From my privileged position at home, I watched the mounting damage around the world. as chaos mounted, I grieved for a safe just and equitable world of which I’d dreamed.

I am supported by multiple global communities that are versed in virtual tools and have provided comfort, distraction and companionship in this time. Never has community been so important to me as when we come together to battle a global public health crisis.

I have been lucky in that I have had no major losses, just the inconvenience of isolation, and yet I still have experienced moments of grief for a world that might have been. I thought perhaps it was strange to mourn that you have never lost, but a quick search revealed it is well known and that there is lots of advice on how to handle this experience. Even still my story seems a little trivial compared to those stories of loss of dreams and ideals. At best, my life has been a mildly inconvenienced and perhaps delayed.

If it became impossible to touch and be touched, to see
and be seen, to love and trade ecstasy for risk where risk
is ecstasy, to be hidden in plain view, to be perfectly lost
which means lost to the world, lying side-by-side arms linked
in a bond so intricate it could never unfold or break

David Harsent, Loss

We can’t live life backwards. Our losses and our grief are real. We will seek what closure life will allow. We can tell ourselves all kinds of stories about the past, some for comfort, some for validation, and some as inspiration. Some of these stories are even true. Other stories we tell are those of the future. These are the stories that inspire us to get out of bed and to go on with our lives. Whether these are true or not remains in our hands. If we mourn the loss of these stories too much now, we determine their fate.

Whatever the circumstances, we do not lose the ability to yearn and to dream. These stories may tease our hopes and bring future losses. However, they are also the vehicles for us to come together with others, to create new things and to realise our potential. We cannot be afraid of the stories that may not eventuate. Our future is full of them, just as it is full of so much other potential.

An hour comes
To close a door behind me
The whole of night opens before me

WS Merwin, Memory of the Loss of Wings
Of course, just for an added bonus for the dedicated who made it this far, there is an Elvis song

2 thoughts on “Losing What You Never Had

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