The Art of Losing

On my trip to the post office, one of the few places I go to during this pandemic, I noticed the corner drugstore had Passport Pics Made Here on its marquee. What a strange time to advertise travel abroad, when we are safer sheltering at home.

I also noted that the new Popeye’s eatery had not just one but two rows of cars circling it. There’s something to that – the fact that those eager to eat at a new dining facility in our small town are patient enough to organize in a double line. I hope we (as a world) can mimic that cooperation as we move through these stressful times. I’ve never eaten at a Popeye’s. Not that I’m not a fan of eating out. I am. In fact, I’ve been astonished by how much food a family of four who is home almost 24/7 consumes. To get a break from cooking and dreaming up meals (and I have to give credit to the husband who does 99% of the cooking and 100% of shopping), we’ve ordered off and on from local restaurants. It makes me happy to have a break from cooking and cleaning, and it also makes me happy to support local businesses who’ve been slammed by this pandemic that touches everything – bodies, economies, psyches.

I started the pandemic stay-at-home/work-from-home process quite upbeat. I’m an introvert. I am blessed to have a home in a rural part of north Georgia with a pond and four acres to wander around on. Spring gifts are abundant: the patches of purple lobelia in the grass, the Japanese Magnolia pink and cheerful, and a dogwood that seemed to want to comfort us: her blazing white blossoms held on for weeks, stopping us all, from ages 18 to 55, each time we looked at her through the kitchen window.

For a time to be sheltering-in, I have it good in more than one way. I have a job. My family has remained healthy so far. But the hit to the economy has hurt us all. My husband has taken a part-time job at the local grocery store, as his main income has slowed to a crawl. My daughter is too far from her Athens office to go in, and my son’s part-time job has also slowed considerably, not to mention that he is also a Type 1 diabetic. High risk. So the worries are heavy. I do not believe things will return to as they were. In fact, I’m preparing otherwise. As Elizabeth Bishop writes in “One Art,” “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” but of course it is. She knew this as she crafted her famous villanelle, and we all know this from personal experience.

For a few years I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker. It’s one I researched and spent money on because it met my needs and it was aesthetically pleasing – not just a typical black band with a digital printout. I took it off this week. I was too attached to it – checking my exercise, my stress levels, my hours of sleep. While helpful at times, I realized that I knew if I listened to my body and worked it like I should, I would be fine without this lovely attachment. At first it felt odd. The skin underneath is paler than the rest of my arm. My arm feels lighter, like a small weight has been removed. At first I felt “off”.  But now I’ve grown to like the feeling. I guess this is akin to the Christian practice of Lent, where one gives up something they like for an amount of time. But I plan on giving up my tracker for the foreseeable future. For me, letting go of this device that I really didn’t need after getting into the habit of daily walking, is a way to symbolically let go of a thing I was attached to. Yes, I still like my tracker. It’s pretty. But I’m not allowing it back on my arm. I’m practicing letting go and living in a different manner, because my gut tells me this is a necessary approach to the current pandemic we are in, and will benefit me as things shift once again.

Yes, it’s a baby step. A letting go of a device that is somewhat frivolous. But because of my psychological and physical attachment to it, it is a valid step. It allows me to practice being (as in existing) in a new way that was first somewhat uncomfortable. I’ve grown to like it. To take pride in trusting myself to get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day, to trust that I know what my stress level is without checking a device, to trust that upon waking I know if I’m rested or not, regardless of hours slept (or not).

I’m embracing this tiny change. And as we move forward in the world – a world that will not be the same — I am having a somewhat smoother time imagining how I can evolve. What life will be like?  How will we pay the bills? How will we float above the fear and anxiety of this collective trauma? How will we honor and allow the bad days and feelings to wash over us, but not pull us down? Giving something up that I wanted and thought I needed has helped me put a toe over that threshold of the unknown, with my own agency and intention leading the way. May it be the first of an evolution that, in the long run, will help me live each day with an eye of gratitude, patience, and creativity.