loss

Life Is Not Losing

5117774169_73cb802e98_z

Last Sunday night at the Golden Globes, George Clooney accepted the Cecil B. Demille Award for lifetime achievement. In his speech, he talked about how he had lost much more than he'd won at award ceremonies like this. In fact, 80% of the actors and actresses in the room, he pointed out, don't win.

"And then, you are a loser."

Many of these actors would feel like losers, and many people at the after parties and work the next day would treat them like losers. Clooney went on to say this, though: "For the record, if you're in this room...you get to do what you've always dreamed to do and be celebrated for it.

And that just...it ain't losing."

I've been thinking about that idea ever since. That even when you feel like you're losing, you're not really losing.

You'd think it'd be easy enough for George Clooney to convince a room full of wealthy, talented people that they're not, in fact, losers. The truth, though, is that all of those people at the Golden Globes are mere mortals, like you and me. Despite the success and the admiration they've garnered, they still know what it is to feel defeated. They still bleed when critics pick at their flaws. They still try to claw their way out of the shadow of insecurity.

Nobody's immune to feeling like a loser. Not them--the glittering, glamorous gods of Hollywood--and not us--the ones who are fooled into thinking fame cures the fragile human ego.

No matter our backgrounds, our races, our genders, our socio-economic statuses, our careers, we all know what it is to lose.

We have all been losers.

We've lost games, matches, and races.

We've lost jobs, and we've lost money.

We've lost opportunities.

We've lost friendships.

We've lost our innocence.

We've lost our dignity, or our self esteem, or our confidence.

We've lost loved ones to the slow, measured sunset of aging or the blinding flash of tragedy.

We've lost sections of our hearts sliced off by lovers to whom we've bonded ourselves.

Like our keys, wallets, or phones, we've all lost ourselves in some crack or crevice or some field or forest of addiction, manic romance, or winding, confused pursuit of happiness.

We all know defeat. We all know discouragement. We all lose.

But what if life isn't about the amount of awards on our mantel? What if it's not about how many times we can get a "yes" from people or a prize when we scratch the ticket? What if it doesn't even matter if you've lost the battle but are winning the war?

I think that when it comes to life, if you lose, you're not losing. You're not losing because that's not how life works. It's not about fighting to keep the number of W's higher than the number of L's on the scorecard. We're not trying, like some of our teams, to fight our way to a playoff spot for a chance to make it to the Big One.

Life is not winning. Life is not losing. Life is mending, moving, and making.

Life is mending, about how we heal from our inevitable wounds. We rebuild our broken homes. We ice our strained self images. We rethread our tattered hearts. When someone passes away, we grieve and mourn and laugh and cry all manners of emotions from our eyes. When our hearts are broken, we lock ourselves away. We fight and grab for some semblance of control over anything. We drink wine or whiskey or the cold air of lonely walks at night. And then, time passes. And more time passes. And the bleeding stops, the ache downgrades from jet engine to portable fan, and we realize we're still here. We can still do this.

Life is moving, about oiling our creaky joints and using our limbs again to step out of our static, stuck, self-pitying positions. We move, and we must move forward--because the world is moving, and time is moving, and the people who love us and need us--the ones we know and the ones we've yet to meet--are all moving, and none of that goes backwards. We regain our bearings, we rediscover our goals and dreams, and we begin to walk in that direction. It may feel like we're simply moving from loss to loss, from disappointment to disappointment. I'd like to think we move through losses and disappointments to something better. Something more beautiful.

Life is making, about exercising the power to build and mold the shape of our experiences. We can look at each rejection, each bit of bad news, each slip and fall and fracture and see a discouraging arc. We can see a story whose every scene clubs its audience over the head with this theme: "Count the losses--you are a loser. This is life." If we do that, we make our losses into monsters that grow bigger and deadlier every time we experience them. We'll build a life that buries us much earlier than we should be buried. We'll build our own coffins, box ourselves in panels of pine, and seal ourselves in the dark.

But it doesn't have to be that way. When you experience a loss, when a plan falls through, when a door is shut, when you lose a job, when someone whom you love tells you that you are not worth the fight, when your losses threaten to bury you under the earth--

--you can build stairways to the surface. You can make skylights to let the sun shine on your battle-worn face again. You can create life from loss. Because life is not counted and measured and defined by losing. Because you will heal, and become stronger. Because you will move forward through defeat and toward hope, and love, and all that is better. You can make a life that is made of sturdier material than winning.

You will lose in your lifetime, but you will not be losing at life.

You will move. You will mend. You will make life more than that.

***

Feature photo ©2010 Adam Foster | Flickr

#LiveTogether: Hide and Seek

4904341484_f75f0d5d79_z

This post is the first in a series on relationships called #LiveTogether (and if you followed up with "Die Alone," then you have watched Lost and are my best friend) which will cover all kinds of relationships--romantic, platonic, familial. I hope it'll be fun, funny, heart-wrenching, hope-giving, and eye-opening.

***

On our first date, we played Hide and Seek in a Super Walmart.

I was nineteen and didn't have a car. She picked me up in her dad's worn down, small-size Chevy S10 pickup. As soon as I shut the rusting door, her perfume danced around my head and slipped smoothly into my nostrils down past my lungs, spun circles around my nerve endings to the soles of my feet and floated all the way back up to the hair follicles on the top of my head.

She looked at me and smiled. Even in the dim orange tint of my apartment's parking lot lights, she lit up in my mind like a hungry fire and burned an image there--long, feather-like earrings and waterfall bangs framed her face. In the dark, brief gleams of light flashed from the middle of her shadowy eyes, her speck of a nose ring, her unbalanced smile, and the metal loop in her lip.

The air was no warmer than 40 degrees, but all she was wearing to guard herself from the cold was a thin, black blazer. Its sleeves stopped just below her elbows, which made sure I could see the large, turquoise beads shaking and rattling around her wrists. I had stepped through the crusty, outer crust of a country pickup truck and found a rich, elegant, caramel center inside.

It was like happily drowning in a pool of rare, century-old wine.

And then we headed to Walmart.

To play hide and seek. Because that's what kids in a college town do. (To my credit, it wasn't the only place we'd go that night--there would be dinner, there would be music, and there would be a drunk guy mooning us. What a night.)

 As we walked through the wide, toothless mouth of Walmart's automatic double doors, I was ready for what my wiry, circus-like body was born to do--hide in really weird places.

I hid first. I felt good about it--I could set the bar high, leave a good impression. My clearly yet-to-be-developed brain was convinced a girl could be wow'ed by my hiding skills. She had trash talked me earlier, bragging about how awesome she was at this game.

Nonsense, I thought.

I left her, with the smug smile of arrogance on my face, to count to sixty somewhere between the racks of extra-large men's camo gear and the wall of Hanes socks. I jogged down the aisles, snapped my head from side to side, my eyes pinging in every direction, zipping like hummingbirds, looking for the spot.

I don't remember exactly where I hid. It doesn't matter--she found me faster than a mom of four could find the Snack Packs on sale. For years, as I investigated the mystery of how she found me so quickly, she would only say, "I'm that good."

Now came her chance to hide, and mine to redeem myself. Each second I counted, my body temperature seemed to rise. By being found so quickly, I identified with my Korean ancestors' shame when they tarnished the honor of their families. I gathered myself and narrowed my eyes with determination as I rattled off the final seconds before my hunt began.

I marched in swift strides, moving quickly underneath the fluorescent lights and spherical cameras hanging from the ceiling. Toys aisle. Not there. Bikes. Not there. Baby stuff. Not there. Electronics section. Not there.

Of course--the garbage bins! So easy.

I looked behind them, inside them, around them. Not there.

The sweat of pressure began to seep over the lip of my forehead. Oh no. This can't be happening. Everything would have been fine had we simply gone to dinner and started our night there. But no--I just had to agree to begin our night in the land of broken dreams: Walmart. Minutes disguised themselves as hours in my head passed as I poked my head in between shelves and ripped open racks of clothing. Exasperated, panicked, and desperate, I started to backtrack my route through the store. Still nothing.

And then:

“Paul!”

I heard her voice ring out. I spun around. And there she was.

The baby stuff. The baby section where I had already looked--she was crammed on the bottom shelf behind some cribs. That I missed her on my first pass, I’ll never forgive myself. She shimmied out, and I thought her head might be cocked to one side permanently from having held it in that position for the eons of my fruitless search.

“You suck at this,” she said. “I told you I’m the best.”

After that, we left. We ate. We listened to music. We began. We kissed. We fought. We strayed. We came together. We journeyed for a long time. We parted ways.

As I look back on it all, I'm not sure that I ever really found her that night in Walmart. I'm not sure that our game of Hide and Seek ever ended.

For years, I traced and retraced the same steps through those scuffed aisles. I called, "Olly olly oxen free." I sat down on the floor to wait.

I was forever found, but never finding.

***

Feature photo ©2010 Sylvia Sala | Flickr

I See You

curious2119ffsl To my friends who are parents or have wanted to be parents and have tasted the loss of a child or children, directly or indirectly.

I want you to know that I have no way of knowing or understanding the depths of your loss. That I have no advice or prescriptions or platitudes for you. No fixes. No solutions.

I want to simply say that I see you.

I see you, and I know that you sport a certain scar that will never fully leave, whether it's been months or decades.

You carry with you something you let very few of us see.

The grief of hopes and expectations frozen in place.

The whiplash in your neck from moving with such great anticipation of life to halting to a stop in the void of it.

The fear, the anxiety, the dread of the thought of trying again.

The moments, days, even seasons of canyons and chasms between you and your partner as you each deal in your own ways.

The knot in your stomach, the gritted teeth when someone asks you why you haven't had kids, or another kid, yet.

The white-hot fire that flares up which you keep under control when someone suggests you are selfish for not having kids.

The frustration you feel when you read yet another news story of someone who abuses their privilege as a parent while you are still left without.

The dagger that sticks you as you read another post of a happy couple with the happy news you wanted to have.

The shame that constricts your chest for feeling jealous of those couples.

The little things--a date on the calendar, a scent, a line in a movie, an item in the grocery store, a family at the park, a balloon, a sound, a song, the family picture that could be three instead of two, four instead of three--that bring your grief rushing back momentarily like brain freeze.

The nights of restlessness.

The feeling of powerlessness.

The questions.

The doubts.

The anger.

The sorrow.

The hundreds of little things that I and most other people in your life will never see, hear, or know.

Even with those secrets, I see you. I see you carry all of it. I see this part of your story.

I want you to know that when I see you, I see strength. Even if you haven't felt strong, you are. And you blow my mind.

I see life. I see life in you and the way you love people. I see life around you in the way people love you because of who you are. I see life ahead of you because there is so much in store for you.

With all your joy and grief,

your laughter and hidden tears,

your hope and anxiety,

your strength and your scars,

I see you.