The Clerestory Podcast S1 E25

The Oklahoma Tenant Farmer and Me
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The Art of Loss

Once upon a time…

All history books should begin like a fairytale.

Reality holds magic in the same way that myths do. After all, every story (fantastical or not) is an attempt for us to cling to the past, and hold on to morsels of time. Life is impermanent, and it is painful for us to admit to ourselves that our reality is doomed to fade as soon as it is experienced.

I saw this exemplified this past summer when I took a part-time job at a garden center. As a flower-waterer, it was my job to make sure the plants in the nursery were watered and cared for. I loved helping customers choose flowers for their garden.

There was one day, when a woman came in and wandered through the rows of flowers. She stopped by the annuals section, and rolled her eyes in disgust.

“What’s the point of annual flowers if they’re not going to come back next year? What a waste of money.” The woman scoffed. “I only buy perennials…” she shoved the pansies with an exaggerated wrist flick and a look of disdain.

I had just watered those pansies, and the water droplets from my hose still clung to the purple petals. As the woman sauntered off, a wave of sadness fell over me. I looked at the flowers, their soil, now damp with Hope, spoke to me from their plastic pots and they sang—

oh lovely flower maiden,

water us some more, please

For though we won’t come back next year,

We promise to give you our beauty freely,

And at least for this season

We will blossom ever so sweetly, albeit briefly!

I don’t want silk flowers. I don’t want buds that refuse to wilt. I want to wear pansies on my sleeve and let my heart bleed with them— keeping them company as they grow up and then die. Everlasting life sounds nice until we realize that the rejection of loss means the rejection of joy. The two hold hands, you see. Beauty and Melancholy are twins who, in the womb of Mother Anticipation, color all of life with vivid hues.

That woman in the garden center taught me a valuable lesson— the more we scoff at death and reject the inevitable occurrence of loss, the more we invite depression, numbness, and torpor.

Once upon a time…

Listen close now, for I am about to tell you the secret of history:

Life means embracing the heartaches, the pain, the abandonment, loss, joy, Hope and beauty… all of it. In a single inhale allow yourself to feel. Do not avoid. Embrace the beauty of risk and watch the magic unfold as you release your doves to the winds without any expectation of them returning.

There’s a special kind of intimacy in watching leaves fall. The poets speak better of this, I’m sure, but there’s an anguish in the feeling of autumn. It’s the same feeling, I imagine, as writing a love letter on the back of a carrier pigeon, without ever knowing if it will ever return with a response.

History teaches us the art of loss, for it is the scribe of time. Empires die, nations fall, kings are dethroned, treasures are lost. Like the falling autumn leaves, or the petals of dying pansies, History teaches us that nothing is certain, nor permanent.

The lesson of annual flowers is that risk is worthwhile and certainty is overrated. Hope never promises that she knows the ending of the story. Hope signs no contract with us, nor does she sing sweet oracles of how the final chapter will read. In our quest for certainty we have sacrificed our capacity for yearning and anticipation.

Hope only promises us redemption and the beauty of remaining. Thriving was never part of the deal. To remain, however, carries within itself the beautiful mystery of the future, while also honoring the pain of the past. Hope transcends time and willingly pushes herself to the terrifying uncertainty of the future, while also fighting for what remains. If Hope can do this, then who are we to resign ourselves to the cheap instant gratification of certainty?

Nothing is permanent in life, and the more we attempt to fill our lives with fixed objects, silk pansies, and plastic roses, the more we realize that what makes life worth living, is the impermanence of it all.

For true joy to occur, you must practice the art of kissing things before letting them go; it reinforces the narrative that not all loss is bitter, and abandonment is only a myth.

I want your life to be beautiful. I want it to be full of joy, hope, and yearning for a more gentle tomorrow. I want you to give yourself Grace, peace, and serenity. I want you to wake up with the sunrise and greet the dawn with anticipation and yearning for the unknown. I want you to throw away styrofoam flowers. I want you to choose to buy annual flowers because they only last for a year. Practice the art of loss.

In spite of all the empires falling, here you are now-- alive, and reading this. You are an active agent in this grand epoch, and while we are all very much like annual flowers, allow your life to be full of beauty, adventure, and yes, even loss too.

Mia Tabib is a social worker and therapist, and a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School. She loves thinking about Gentleness, and agrees with Hans Christian Andersen that our lives are all fairytales written by the hand of god.

Discover more from Mia Tabib.