“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart
will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over
the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in
your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like
having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the
weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott
Everyone loses. This is not just a statement about playing sports or games. At some point, we all lose someone that we love. Ideally we lose the people we love to the finitude of old age. Then, even in our grief, we can accept the cycle of life. We know no one can live forever. Far too often, our realities stray from the idea. We lose people we love too young, too violently, to illnesses without cures, to situations that didn't have to happen.
Most cultures have rituals for mourning the loss of loved ones. We bring food, send flowers, attend funerals. We visit the places where loved ones lived, died or have their final rest. These practices don't take away the depth of the loss, but they help us to integrate it. Rituals acknowledge our pain, and eave life and loss into the fabric of our lives.
But what about the other things we lose? What do we do when we lose the life trajectories we thought we would have? How to we grieve the relationships that were planned for permanence? How do we mourn losing faith?
I love my faith journey. I love that I came to faith among black southern church women. I love the sound of spirituals, the hum of gospel music and the smell of the pages in a Bible that has been passed down several generations. I was immersed in the waters of evangelical missionary Christianity and it taught me how to discuss my beliefs and to nurture relationship with the divine. But I no longer believe many things held dear in those traditions. I can’t, with any integrity, give my daughter the faith and the communities that shaped me. This pains me greatly. It is a loss that cannot be interred in a cemetery.
Jewish, Christian and Islamic narratives share the story of a spiritual ancestor Jacob who wrestled at a place called Penuel. Some say he was wrestling with God; some say he wrestled with an angel; others say he wrestled another man – or maybe even a part of himself. The tradition agrees that he emerged with a limp. Jacob comes out of a great wrestling permanently changed. And although this limp is rarely mentioned again in holy texts, the wrestling he experiences is part of who he is.
The essayist Anne Lamott reminds readers that grief is not cured. Losing what we have loved changes us. Even when and even if we know we have to let it go. Loving and losing is like having a broken leg that doesn’t heal. On particularly cold days, our dance reveals that we haven’t been fully cured.
Reflection: What have you lost that still aches?
Inspiration: How do you now dance with loss?
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