Gaining Perspective on Loss
Dr. Andy takes stock at his internal Lost and Found desk
We all lose things. We lose friends, family members, and beloved pets to death. Some friends fade from our lives due to neglect or a falling out. Others just disappear. Some people I know are slowly losing their minds, while others might lose a decade because they weren’t paying attention.
Some people, such as myself, lose our looks, while some of us seem particularly well preserved. For example, the waiter who carded my lovely wife Kate at a Sacramento restaurant recently guessed wrong on her age (that is, too young) by 17 years. This was one of many birthday presents for her that night. Meanwhile, by contrast, someone recently asked me if I had plans to play Santa Claus this year.
I believe the Santa remark concerned my whitening beard, not my girth. If you are curious, and I feel compelled to share even if you are not, my belt size is holding steady at 32 inches. If I were a mixed martial arts fighter, I would compete in the lightweight division, reserved for scrappers who enter the octagon weighing 70.3 kilograms. Perhaps our not having access to a kitchen this month has caused me to lose some weight.
The daily walking routine helps with this, though I have been losing steam now that the afternoons have grown dark and the air has turned frigid. I’m only averaging about seven miles a day this month of November. What have I got to lose by easing off from my daily quota now that I’ve almost made it to the finish line? Of course, the answer is so much.
Rather than measuring out his life with coffee spoons, or with miles logged, my son Truman has a monthly quota of classic movies viewed. Today my son Truman and I watched the 1948 classic Oscar-winner The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which features characters who gain and lose a great deal, though some of them remain sanguine about the losses. The Spanish spoken in the film by banditos, Federales, and Indios was not accompanied by subtitles, so I tried to keep up as best I could, translating poorly in my head. Surely something was lost in the translation.
My parents knew Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald in Washington DC in the 1960s. I wonder if she felt lost after both her parents died in their 40s. Scottie was a locally famous hostess and a big proponent of the arts. My parents lost touch with her after she moved down to her mom’s home town of Montgomery, Alabama in 1973.
A scene near the end of The Treasure of Sierra Madre reminds me of something Scottie’s dad, F. Scott Fitzgerald, a member of what Gertrude Stein called “The Lost Generation,” wrote in in his 1922 novel The Beautiful and the Damned: “Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know--because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it, it turned to dust in my hands.”
Sometimes we make new friends to make up for all the losses. For instance, yesterday I had lunch with a new friend who speaks five languages. When I asked her three children what the fifth language was – I remembered only Italian, Spanish, French, and English – one of them asserted that it was Chinese. I checked with their dad whom I have known for 45 years, but who I haven’t seen in almost 40, and he corrected them: It’s German. The kids, who moved seamlessly from English to Italian themselves, had lost track of what their impressive mom knew. I bet German is spoken in the house less than the other four languages.
If I wanted to say “I was groping on the floor for a lost contact lens” in German, I would get to use the most delightful 18-letter term for “lost.” Check this out: “Ich tastete auf dem Fußboden nach einer heruntergefallenen Kontaktlinse.” Alphabetically, the first 18-letter word in English is “ABSENTMINDEDNESSES.” Both this word and heruntergefallenen indicate a loss, but I bet only one frequently accompanies a professor. The German translation of “professor” is “der Professor.” I thought I had lost all my German, but evidently I still speak it from time to time.
Whether in the dojo, the octagon, or the chess board, men sometimes prefer to speak the language of competition rather than the language of understanding and negotiation. I used to win online games of chess with my friends Joe and Brad, but now I lose more often than I win. C.S. Lewis once said that, “Like a good chess player, Satan is always trying to maneuver you into a position where you can save your castle only by losing your bishop.” I prefer the virtual company of Joe and Brad to that of Satan, whom I know best from long poems by Dante and Milton.
Speaking of Bishops, Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite American poets. And just as I never got to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald (he died decades before I was born), I can relive his genius through his novels and through the stories I remember my parents telling me when I was a young English major. Likewise, I never got to see Bishop read, but I have learned important lessons about poetry from two of her students, Robert Pinsky and Dana Gioia, two living poets who continue to write and publish important poems.
Bishop’s most-anthologized poem is a villanelle about losing titled “One Art.” It begins this way:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
You can read the rest of this short Bishop masterpiece online. I myself am aware of losing places – four different apartments in three different cities where I have lived with Kate – and of losing names. For instance, I keep mistaking Owen Wilson, the writer and voice actor who loses races but gains friends as Lightning McQueen, and Wilfred Owen, the solider poet who lost his life in the closing days of World War I.
I assume I am losing faces, too, for people in Davis still “recognize” me or greet me by name even though I don’t always know who they are. My famous but blind father taught me how to deal with this situation: Greet everyone as if they were an old friend. Let kindness compensate for the awkwardness. People forgive quirkiness.
As a film buff, like the grandson he would never meet, and as a film critic, my father likely watched over 10,000 films in his life, many of them in the movie theatre where I worked as a teenager. Almost all of the 30 or so Washington DC theatres where he and I watched films together have been lost – the palaces have been closed. I was with him for the last film he ever saw, watched from his room during my last visit with him not long before he died. That film was Lost in Translation.
We might rebrand loss to become more comfortable with it. As an article published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association tells us, a mindfulness course can be just as effective as medication at helping us deal with anxiety. This is how Dr. Elizabeth Hoge and her co-authors summarized their findings: “In this randomized clinical trial of 276 adults with anxiety disorders, 8-week treatment with mindfulness-based stress reduction was noninferior to escitalopram.”
From this study, and from this blog entry, I hope you will take my suggestion that we should practice treating people, experiences, and even losses as “noninferior.” I will leave you, but I hope not lose you, with these wise and antidotal words by the Brazilian lyricist who authored The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho:
“Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them. Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.”
Thanks for reading that longer-than-usual essay on loss.
Every week I share a Pub Quiz with subscribers who make all of this possible. I would love to include you among their number. Visit and join us at Patreon at whatever level you please. Some people say that joining in person or virtually with other quiz-loving friends keeps them from losing their marbles. Perhaps the same will be true of you.
I hope you get to see this week’s Pub Quiz. Expect questions on topics raised above, and on the following: Japanese companies, independence, hurricanes, lions, people named Zoe, Kings named Henry, discs, election results, the effects of quakes, The Beatles, Asian cultures, favorite journalists, big films from yesteryear, angels, numbers and letters, identified millennia, large rings, ruinous gates, peanuts, people who are lost, astronomy, first cousins, temperatures in Fahrenheit, spheres with sides, great American pairings, Canadians, large appliances, climate changes, shipwrecks, co-ed institutions, things that come from Boston, current events, mottos and slogans, and Shakespeare.
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Yours in letting go,
P.S. Find here three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Food and Drink - Blueberries. Blueberry jam is made from blueberries, sugar, water, and fruit WHAT?
Pop Culture – Television. The Sopranos aired for what even number of seasons?
Another Music Question. What color is the “note” in the name of the most prolific, influential and respected jazz labels of the mid-20th century?
P.P.S. Poetry Night happens indoors on Thursday with international flavor. Expect to be entertained by André Naffis-Sahely and Natachi Mez!
P.P.P.S. Also, In my most recent podcast, I interview poet Suzanne Frischkorn and two students from my first-year seminar titled Bravery Studies: Three Poems A Week. Please listen and subscribe to Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour wherever you get your podcasts, or find the show at
As you know, on the first and third Thursdays of each month, I host the Poetry Night Reading Series at the John Natsoulas Gallery, 521 1st Street in Davis. Find out more at www.poetryindavis.com (where you can sign up for the mailing list).
Gorgeous piece, Andy, on love and loss... and yes, "the art of losing things..." Delighted by the notion that your parents knew Scottie Fitzgerald and your father's brilliant advice for greeting people who know you when you don't recognize them: "Greet everyone as if they were an old friend. Let kindness compensate for the awkwardness. People forgive quirkiness." Words to live by for sure!
My god, Andy - this piece is masterful!! I love the way your writing mind works!!
And - spectacular advice. Thank you!