Ten years ago lost a pair of my favorite earrings. I’m pretty sure it happened as I was leaving Grand Central Station.
They were a gift from my husband and I’d cherished them, wearing them to meetings when I needed some additional luck. But—and I hated to admit it even to myself—they pinched. So while I loved wearing them, I couldn’t keep them in my ears for more than a few hours. I’d taken them off on the way back from a long lunch with a publisher in Manhattan and put them in my coat pocket for the trip back home.
That was my mistake.
I could have lost them anywhere after that. I’d had to run for the train; I’d taken my coat off once I got a seat; I had a long walk to my car in the parking when I reached Connecticut.
The next morning I called every number I could find. I wheedled people at “Lost and Found” in case they were holding out on me; I offered to bribe stationmasters. I would have phoned individual passengers on the same trip if it were possible to get their home numbers.
But the earrings remained gone. Lost.
So I made up stories. If I couldn’t have them, then I told myself they went to a good home, found by somebody who really needed a gift thrown down by fate. Some woman needed to put finishing touches on an outfit for an interview; I told myself she was recently returning to the workforce and needed something shiny to make her feel confident. I told myself they were found by a little boy who gave them to the grandmother who was raising him. A man found them and decided it was time to get his own ears pierced.
I had a million stories because I couldn’t stand to imagine them rolling onto the tracks or being swept up and thrown into the trash.
Who wouldn’t miss gold that’s gone? Yet what bothers me even after all these years, despite the fact I have lots of earrings and can only wear one pair at a time, is my own carelessness.
Losing something—even something as replaceable as earrings, a scarf, or even keys—reminds us of our own vulnerability. It adds a moment of chaos to life by introducing an unforeseen element into our day. It’s a humbling experience and one that makes us face our own lack of control.
As painful as it is to admit, there’s also lost-object karma. I fear I might be on the wrong side of the ledger from certain actions on my youth. In my day, I’ve pocketed things thrown down by fate. I’ve retrieved them with a shrug of the shoulder and the belief that I was only doing what the next person would do.
When I was in college, I found a fancy pen on the floor of a dressing room in a huge department store. I’d never even held a solid pen before, having been raised on Bics and Flairs. I kept the pen. And, for a brief time, I adored it.
But I could never find the right kind of replacement cartridge. I’ve kept the pen but I can’t use it. It remains on my desk as a polished and pretty rebuke to the fact that I should have behaved better. While I never knew to whom the pen belonged, I‘ve always known that it belonged to somebody else.
Another found object bothers me more. As a teenager, I kept a single costume-jewelry earring I found outside a church. How low is that? I should have contacted the parish the next day and offered to return it if anyone called to track it down. It was the least I could have done and I didn’t do it. I worry that my spiritual permanent record is blotted by that mistake.
Finding that single earring turned into my loss. I forfeited a piece of the better part of myself.
Everything I’ve described, of course, count as little losses.
Yet even these little losses deserve their own moments of passing grief and tiny bereavements. They deserve recognition because they’re turning points; they mark a moment when we are forced to understand that things change without our permission.
For all our self-awareness, this lack of control often comes as a shock; it’s a glimpse of the abyss. It’s one of the reasons we repeatedly keep looking for a lost object in the same place we’ve looked before, saying, “It’s got to be here” even when we have proven to ourselves that it isn’t.
To lose a thing, to experience a painful emotion, is nothing compared to life’s real losses. Yet even monumental losses, unrelenting losses, make room in us.
We lose a lover or mate and discover in ourselves a storehouse of independence. We no longer have a certain friend in our life but we form an alliance with someone we might otherwise never have known. We lose a parent only to find, paradoxically, a renewed sense of their influence and tenderness in our lives.
What can you do with what is gone—except to let it go? Perhaps the only thing is to remember that if life is about loss, it is also about discovery. If necessity is the mother of invention, then loss is a source of inspiration.
You suddenly become creative; you have to have an original idea because you face the unexpected. You discover opportunities and ways of looking at things that you never would’ve been forced to explore if there hadn’t been a sudden absence in your life. There’s a difference between loss and letting go—letting go is the better of the two.