Loss is an everyday experience in my life, something that happens so frequently that it passes almost without comment. Loss of favorite pens, of earrings, of keys, cell phones, books. I’ve left my wallet on picnic tables by the interstate, and in the middle of city streets in the middle of the night, and it’s always been returned untouched. I get lost in new places, and take the wrong roads to places I’ve known forever. I forget what I was going to say, or what I came in here for. I lose people’s names, faces, conversations we’ve had. Encountering an old friend a few days ago, I forgot that he’d ever come to our home, and graciously invited him to come visit sometime. I caught the strange look I received in response, but I’ll lose it at some point. I just never know quite when.
As common an occurrence as loss is for me, it’s been ramped up lately. In addition to words, faces, and names, I’ve lost:
Favorite coffee cup
Most of these have been found again, sometime in a matter of hours (chicken, coffee cup) and sometimes days (shorts) and sometimes weeks (ipod). Once I found a phone after a month, still in the yard where it had fallen. Sometimes they are never found (hat, innumerable socks, earring, key). And here it seems disingenuous to use the same verb, to lose, for inanimate objects and for creatures. The chicken, Anna, didn’t know she was lost. She knew exactly where she was. Theo, my dog, left me some miles into the national forest to return to the car, but to me, he was lost, and I walked for hours calling his name.
The verb “to lose” has over 20 definitions in almost every dictionary I’ve found. The word itself is a blur, a palimpsest of languages: Old Norse, los, looseness, breaking up; Middle English, losen, to perish, from Old English losian, destruction; Latin, luere, to release, atone for; and Greek, lyein, to loosen, dissolve, destroy. Each layer of meaning quickens the intensity of the word, which can be used so easily to convey the meaning: “To fail to inadvertently retain (something) in such a way that it cannot be immediately recovered.”
For hours, I walked the woods calling my dog’s name. Theo, I cried, Theo. I clapped my hands together in a rhythmic pulse, called again. Theo. He often walks with me, and generally likes to keep a little ahead, just out of eyesight but well within the sound of my voice. When I call, he comes. But he didn’t come. I walked ahead, thinking he’d gotten ahead of me. I turned and walked back where we’d been. Still, he did not come. The miles of trail suddenly seemed small beside the immensity of even this little patch of forest, what remains of wilderness, as I imagined the logistics of scouring it in all directions. The trail is a sturdy one, a path raised between acres of trees, rhododendron thickets, muddy where water seeps from mossy rocks and puddles. Fallen trees littered the ground in all directions, and where they fell over the path, small trails had been worn around them. What I hadn’t realized before is how much smaller the path was than the mountainside through which I walked.
Being accustomed to losing things brings a form of acceptance to that experience. A nonchalant “It’ll turn up sooner or later,” is the general response, when I complain, Have you seen…? Or, Where did I put my….? And, true enough, it usually does. But when Theo was lost, I was ready to turn the mountain upside down to find him. I thought about the shepherd, who left 99 sheep to find the one who was lost, or the woman who lost a coin, lit a lamp and swept the house to find it. Then I imagined the urgency of a parent in search of a lost child.
Gandhi said, “If you can’t find God in the face of the next person you meet, stop looking.” * What I realized is that this seeking isn’t one of quick gratification or futility, but one spurred by desire to find God. If God is lost, it’s up to us, with urgent abandon, to find God, who is all around us. Sometimes it takes some effort on our part. The next person you meet appears; God is there, but…where? What would happen if I paid attention to that person with the same desperate attention with which I sought my dog? With which a parent seeks her child? What if I didn’t let that person go until I’d seen the face of God?
*Thanks to Sierra Hollister for this quote.