Monday, April 6, 2009

The Art of Losing. . .

This post has been on my mind for days - yet I have been too superstitious to write it, because I didn't want to jinx what I thought would happen - a UNC National Championship. But last night, the Tar Heels won the National Championship. Can I get a heels on three? One. Two. Three. HEELS.

Yes, I am estatic about the victory, but I believe there is a more pertinent point that comes from the story of victory, and that is the art of defeat.

As the final four was approaching, I found myself thinking a lot about Tyler Hansbrough and his journey at the University of North Carolina. I thought about how much he had accomplished and how much more he wanted to accomplish. I wondered how much he craved to capture that illusive National Championship. I thought about how close the Heels were last year; yet how far away they must have felt from the Championship after their performance in the final four against Kansas.

My thoughts progressed from Tyler and basketball, to the lesson of loss in life. I thought about how desperately you can want something; yet how quickly you can lose that thing. I thought about how loss turns your desire to destitution. But how, eventually, you gain a bit of perspective - you realize you have to let go a bit; you have to loosen your grip on the thing you desire - crave it less, pursue it less, and you have to trust that fate will happen.

Think of how many different things you can lose in life. You can lose little things: an earring, a toy, a phone number. You can lose big things: a job, a loved one, meaning and hope. You can lose your temper, or lose your purpose. You can lose your place in a book or you can lose your money; you can lose touch, you can lose games, and you can lose your way.

But from all this losing something greater always comes. As Coldplay so aptly states in their song Lost!, "just because I am losing, doesn't mean I'm are lost." You may feel lost (among other things: purposeless, sad, alone, frustrated and confused) but you aren't lost. Instead, you are on the cusp of finding.

I have a peculiar yet strangely profound memory of loss when I was a child. It falls into the small category of loss, but profound non the less.

The highlight of my five year old life were summer day trips to Absegami Lake with my family. My mom would pack up the Dawson brigade (7 of us at the time, I think) into the Dodge Ram Van, and we would hit the road for the lake. Like any small child, I loved bringing my best friends with me on our trips - so my Barbies were always in tow.

On one particular day trip to Absegami, I was running a bit behind schedule (I must have gotten caught up in an episode of Zoobably Zoo). Everyone else was ready to go; their bags were packed and their suits were on. I was frantically running around getting the essentials for the trip - jelly shoes, beach bag, shovel, and barbies.

"Shoot!" I remember thinking, I could not find my favorite Barbie, my best friend. I needed to find her before we left - she could not miss this trip to the lake - we had been looking forward to it for days. I searched the house up and down; I ravaged through the playroom, my bed room, and my older sister Sarah's stuff (Sarah always stole my things, so I figured she stole my Barbie too - probably as a cruel joke). But Barbie was no where to be found.

The screams started erupting from the van: "Come on, Rachel!!! HURRY UP." Dave, Nat, Drew, Sarah, Meg, Han, Dad and Mom were waiting impatiently for me. Andrew came into the house, slamming the back door to make a point, yelling at me to quit looking; Everyone was ready to go. But I was a stubborn five year and I refused to admit that she wasn't there. I made another search of the house. To no avail.

Finally, after a few minutes of frantic, desperate searching, my Mom came into the house and said, "Rachel, we are leaving." She drug me outside and into the van and since I was the last one, I had to ride on the hump - the worst seat ever. I was crying terribly - I had lost Barbie, my best friend. How could I endure a wonderful trip to the beach without her?

Dave and Drew, like the tough older brothers they are, told me to toughen up and get over it. Natalie was oblivious - she was applying red toe nail polish to her feet. Han started crying because I was crying. And Sarah was giving me an evil snare - I could see she enjoyed my misery.

For my five year old self, it was tragic. I didn't know how I would get over the loss. My mom told me to pray to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Things. She said he would help me find it. I hoped he would, but I strongly doubted it. All I knew was that Barbie was lost - that she wouldn't be accompanying me on this trip (or any trip ever again.) While the tragedy stung deep, I knew I couldn't let the day get away from me; I needed to find a way to enjoy Abesegami Lake. So instead of brooding over Barbie, I focused on enjoying my other toys, and enjoying the time with my siblings and cousins.

With the shifted focus, the thoughts of my lost Barbie eventually left my mind. I had a brilliant day; I swam, sunned, and ran around (Sarah and I even built a sand castle together). The day soon ended and we returned home. I was immediately confronted with the loss of Barbie. My mind started thinking: where was she, was she safe, did she miss me??? I immediately stopped my thinking and instead threw up a prayer to Saint Anthony. Hopefully, he would help me find her.

The days went by - life went on. And I had fun with other friends. I was in the playroom one day and I saw my beach bag (still packed from the trip to Abesegami). I went through it, ripping out all the toys and putting them away in their places. I thought I had cleaned it all out but there was something else inside - in a pocket I had forgotten about. I unzipped the pocket, looked inside, and was thrilled when I saw Barbie. She had been with me all along. In my mind, she had been lost, but Saint Anthony helped me find her. But while she was lost, I realized that I could have fun without her. I realized that Sarah was not all that awful, and my other toys were cool too. I realized that I was strong enough to get over losing something that was really important to me. I realized that life goes on, despite the loss, and often it is when you let go of the thing you lose that you find it, or you find something else to replace it.

Now, here is the beauty of the art of losing - when you lose something, whether big or small, you often end up finding something else. You can find the thing you lost - or you can find something new, or perhaps you re-find something old. Or maybe, you find an inner strength to survive the loss, or you find whats real and important in your life. Perhaps, you find a source of meaning and hope. I believe that the poetry of defeat is heard as the art of losing paints the pathway to victory.

For Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels, last night, things came full circle - from heartbreaking loss came the ultimate victory. It is the power of last year's loss that enriches the beauty of this year's victory.