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Last night, a dear friend showed me a photo of her friend’s daughter, who traced her small body onto a giant piece of paper, and made a cutout of herself. Instead of hugging via human touch, she would offer this piece of life-sized paper alternative.
The paper arms spanned so wide. The simplicity and rawness of it all hit me—the need to love and be loved, to hold and be held. Human touch has become such a luxury.
As the world rapidly changes, so do the currency and transactions of our lives, and in turn, what we can and cannot afford. There is our health—physical, mental, and spiritual. Then, there is money—the way we maintain the structure of our lives and how time and space become dictated and relegated. Time and space mean different things to different people; their suspension and shuffle bring up different memories and engender different triggers. The same amount of time and space can be too much for some, and too little for the person six feet away.
A sweeping virus forces us to confront life’s fragility in so many ways, and thus, our fears, values, and priorities. Exactly what was it that we had spent our lives on building and maintaining? What did we sacrifice along the way? Where are we finding our grounding today? Do we care enough about our quality of life to change our priorities? Do we love enough to fear a little bit less?
More than ever, who we are inside are the ones weathering the true chaos. And if we hadn’t previously paid attention or care to this person inside of us, the suffering becomes inescapable now.
We have all lost, and continue to lose parts of our old lives. While many of us are familiar with the Buddhist philosophy of detachment, we suffer because few of us had adequate practice in true detachment. Our time has been filled with too many distractions, and the digital space does not easily forget. Attachment feeds and feeds upon our primal needs, and so, attachment is naturally good business. We spend most of our lives acquiring and collecting, because having something to hold and hold onto give us a sense of security.
Yet, even before social distancing, too many of us had been without someone to hold. And even when we had someone in our arms, there is still sometimes the feeling of emptiness.
I had always wanted to be held. I yearned for it, and in all the wrong places I fell. I was too busy falling that I never even showed up for myself, until a year ago. And during this year spent in isolation, I lived very differently. I reckoned with my losses as I severed my ties. I practiced ruthless detachment.
You can’t always count on people. You can’t count on them to love you, or choose you, or show up for you, or hold you—regardless of how much you love and give and hold in return. I ended up in even more pieces when I did count on these things. The variation of time and space that I’m most familiar with is reaching out for help, and there is only space. That space frightened me and broke me. Then, I learned to fill the space differently.
I learned that space can be beautiful. Space gives room for growth. And here, I’d like to make space for a poem that has held me as I continue to practice losing.
This is my version of a paper embrace; my offering of arms wide open.
April is national poetry month. I hope you hug as many poems as possible. I hope you dive into art that will hold you and float you. I hope you take notice of the poetry that lives inside of you.
By Elizabeth Bishop
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.
And for those of us who do travel and wander, this resonates:Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
~ Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel