The art of losing

By Gwyneth Shoecraft

Gwyneth Shoecraft

In her poem “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop writes, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Bishop got it right: Losing is such an easy task that it requires no effort at all.

Life is often characterized by loss. Loss is not simply misplaced car keys or the forgotten names of old acquaintances, as Bishop writes in her poem. True loss is often something grander and graver than minor slips of the mind.

Returning from summer for the new school year, students feel the loss of seemingly endless days without homework. As new students join USD, they feel the loss of their high school years and the constant companionship of their friends back home. Even when losses are masked by excitement for the impending future, they sneak up on us in our quiet moments and remind us of the impermanence of life.

As we age, losses often become even more serious as our awareness turns from books and friends to the world around us. We begin to lose feelings of invincibility. Life continues to gift us with new opportunities to lose, and lose big.

Last week, we took a moment to honor the lost lives of the many women and men who perished on Sept. 11, 2001. We mourned the passing of a San Diego bishop, whose spiritual leadership touched many lives at USD.

We lose people. This summer I lost my last living grandfather, and with him went his incredible stories of his service to our nation in WWII. I lost the sound of him reading poetry to me.

We lose moments. You have already lost many simply by reading to this point. But I urge you to read on.

Yes, we lose, and we feel that loss daily, sometimes deeply and sometimes simply as minor nuisance like a pebble in our shoe.
But with each loss, we also gain. With the loss of feelings of security we gain resilience. With the loss of loved ones we gain an elevated reverence for simple moments we know we will never share again.

Yes, the art of losing is easy. The art of recognizing the inherent gain within a loss, though less easy than the loss itself, is worth the practice it requires.

To see the darkest moment of night as the prelude to dawn requires a trained eye, mind and spirit. Yet to know that with each loss there is a gain to be had, we can attain the ability to persevere through anything.

To lose is not a period, but an ellipsis. It is from losing that we gain something new. Yes, Elizabeth Bishop was right when she wrote that losing is not a difficult art to master. But she was also correct when she concluded that none of these losses will bring about disaster.