In my school, eighth-graders read and explore The Giver by Lois Lowry.  Set in a dystopian futuristic community, the protagonist, a boy named Jonas, comes to understand the dehumanizing effects of his society’s well-intentioned rituals and customs that virtually eliminate pain, strife, and intensity of any kind.  The word love is a vestigial nonsense word to Jonas’s parents.  They, like almost all other people in Jonas’s world, have no conception of genuine emotion.

Jonas, however, has been selected to receive the community’s collective memories, which are kept from everyone else because of the trauma and volatility they contain.  He learns what love is–along with its pain, risks, and responsibilities.  Ultimately, he finds himself isolated in the wilderness with an infant he has saved from being euthanized.  They are both moments away from death due to starvation and hypothermia, just moments before a hopeful resolution of the story’s plot.

The students in my classes struggled nobly to understand the rationale for a society’s repression of love.  Together, we determined that love and loss are inextricably connected.

This reality has intensely personal significance to me.  In some manner, we must always lose the things and the people we love, one way or another.  And the more meaningfully we love, the deeper and more painful the experience of loss.

For all the love and loss in my life, and for all of my meditative pondering on the impermanence of everything we experience, I never understood it all in an integrated fashion until 1 June 2019.

On that day, I saw my father’s coffin lowered into the ground, and I thought of a man born during the Depression, entering school after the war ended, studying, growing, finding employment, working hard, succeeding, raising a family, educating children, coaching athletes, traveling, giving generously, advising sagely, and devoting himself to his loved ones.  And after that inspiring ascent came the inevitable decline in vitality and health, the deterioration of the mind, the failure of organs, the merciless and steady progression to his demise.  To put this man in a box and to cover that box with earth was a profanity against his noble life–and of the life force we so desperately wish will always prevail.

At this devastating moment, I had to recall a symbol I have known of for decades, and I could only laugh bitterly at myself for having thought that I understood its meaning.  I suppose I did understand it in a rational, intellectual sense, but it took loving my father as much as I did and losing him as painfully as I did for the symbol to reach into me and take true hold.

Tibetan Buddhist monks are known for, among other things, their designs of intricate mandalas on monastery floors.  These hauntingly beautiful works of art are created with colored sand, and they require discipline, patience, and days–sometimes weeks–of painstaking work.  For the artists, these efforts also require complete detachment, as their fate is to be swept away once they are completed.  And the artists start again from the very beginning on new designs.

Our rational sensibility would term this a waste.  And an attachment to that sensibility makes our outrage all the more bitter.

I have agonized over lost friendships, mourned the passing of loved ones, and lamented my spirit wasted on years of devoutly pursued ambitions.  Love is indeed loss.

So I might, then, rationally resolve not to invest myself in loved ones, friends, and treasured endeavors.

But such a rational resolution would also be inhuman.

Love is loss, but it is not only loss.

Its greater part is something which sustains us, strengthens us, deepens us, and makes us truly what we are.

Loss hurts, but in the end, we gain far more than we lose.

Indeed, we gain the very meaning in our lives.

This is why we love.

Photo credit: Deva Darshan of Pexels

I am participating in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

14 thoughts on “Love

  1. This is so beautifully constructed. What an honest and reflective post about something that we all grapple with differently. The images you included such as the coffin being lowered (always the hardest part for me) and the sand art that is swept away were both powerful and important to this piece.

  2. I love how your post flows out of a well-known book into your personal experience through the sands of faith and on into the universal truth about love. Your short line: “Love is indeed loss” packs such punch and yet you build up from this truth through to what makes life worth living. Well done!

  3. Very profound meditation on love and loss. It’s these final sentences: “Love is loss, but it is not only loss.”
    “Loss hurts, but in the end, we gain far more than we lose.” which give me pause and focus. Your storytelling makes these ideas accessible and concrete and sticky.

  4. Your story is so carefully composed, so full of context in at the outset with a shift to the personal. That’s where I stayed and wondered about the symbol and the ones in literature. As a high school English teacher, the understanding of symbolism seems to me to be so deeply connected to personal experience. There is so much expected of students in term of prior knowledge when we talk about symbols, so I have abandoned the whole class novel and focus on smaller works – poems mostly – but your story inspires and maybe I’ll need to rethink my practice. Thank you for this nudge.

    1. And thank you for looking so deeply into what I wrote. I see the same personal connection to symbolism but I also like to discuss some of the universal significance that literary theorists and psychologists assign to some symbols. And I agree that whole-class novels can be cumbersome at the high-school level, particularly when reading compliance is uneven. I like to read entire novels aloud with my students and take a long time in doing so. We stop, discuss, digress, and make a journey of it.

  5. This is so moving and thought provoking. “Its greater part is something which sustains us, strengthens us, deepens us, and makes us truly what we are.”
    The older I get the more I understand this.

  6. “Love is loss but it is not only loss…” I love this line. As usual Paul, your slice is remarkably profound but so easily read, almost lyrical in quality. Yogis are fond of saying, “Attached to nothing, connected to everything.” your slice harkens these words as well as the song, “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack. I wonder if you’ve heard it, perhaps? Thank you for laying bear your struggle and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Your intention and style are inspiring. Truly.

    1. Thanks, Deb. I believe my posts are getting more personal lately. I am not sure how to account for it. Thanks for being so receptive to the revelation. I can relate to that attachment/connection dichotomy. I will have to look into that song, too.

      1. My pleasure. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned it because I gave you the wrong song title. The one I was thinking of is called “The Dance” by Garth Brooks- but be forewarned- it’s a tear jerker, at least for me. But it does echo many of the sentiments in your slice.

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