Love and Loss: An Old Year’s Resolution

It is pretty safe to say that each of us, at some point in our lives, has borne some great suffering or anguish due to the loss of a special person. It is probably the deepest, truest fact of our human condition: you lose a friend, a family member, a lover, a loved one, someone who was close to you, who made you feel life to the fullest, feel that everything is going to be okay. That person may be dead and gone forever. Or that person may still be in your life, but something else is gone, and no matter how hard or how much you wish for it to return, things have gone well beyond the influence of your heartfelt desires. For the most part, however, that person doesn’t or cannot stay in your life, or just isn’t there anymore, and unless we find others to support us, to see things through, we may momentarily or over longer periods of time turn into completely different people. It’s something we have to deal with.

However things turn out in the end, it is important to remember two things; ideally we would all do these two things before we are faced with loss, so I will phrase it in the present tense: First is to recognize that this person is their own person. They have their own goals in life, their own desires, and their own feelings that steer them towards their goals. This person is an end in and of themselves, and it may well be that the true reason for your loss is the very fact that you did not realize this, or, if you did, you did not respect it. That is of course the trouble of being ends in and of ourselves. Our desires may move one way, while the other’s desires move another, or simply stay put while you walk away. Or, worse, you do not know your desires until it is too late. It’s a cliché, but the idea of not knowing what you have until you lose it is very real, and can be the most painful experience in your life. This holds true whether the person has passed away or simply moved on. To put it in the clearest terms: when you love a person, the person you love is their own person, and if you do not also love them for this fact then there is no chance either of pursuing a life together or, faced with loss, returning to normalcy.

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The second thing to remember is that you have to be willing to sacrifice something. This follows directly from the first thing, for that person who is their own person cannot be treated, even if they are gone, as if they did not have their own ends. And if a part of you does treat people this way, no matter who they are and no matter what your intentions are, then you need to work against it, or truly suffer loss. What I mean is simple: Because that person is their own person, you have to understand that they were not put on the earth for you and your desires. They are there to lead their own lives, as are you, and if it should happen that you lead your lives together for even a short while, you cannot let any part of you treat them as if they are not their own persons. To triumph over a loss, therefore, you first have to lose something else. What you lose, exactly, depends on who the person is, and who you are. Most likely, however, you have conflicting desires within you. On the one hand you want to be with them; on the other hand you see that being with this person somehow constrains you, whether because of a career you want to pursue or just because from time to time you want to go sleep around. In the end you have to realize that, most of the time with most people, you cannot resolve this conflict without sacrifice. Trying to resolve this conflict without being willing to sacrifice will lead you to lose sight of that person being their own person, and so long that continues you will lose them as well, even if they are still around.

I have said the person you lose may even be someone who is still in your life, who says they are there for you, who even tries to the best of their ability to help you out, to comfort you, to make you see that things will be alright in the end. And while for most of us that person is probably right, and you do get better over time, the sense of loss doesn’t go away. In some cases in which the person is still “there,” your heartfelt desires might even win over in the end. You might say and do the right things and come together again. But if this actually turns out to be the case, then you have to actively live those two important things: treat the person as an end in themselves and continually sacrifice those desires that prevent you from doing this. It may even be the case that, because that person is their own person, they sincerely do not want you to have to sacrifice anything. They will say it is unfair, or lay the blame on themselves for not letting you simply have the best of both worlds. But you have to remember that even if you yourself can have the best of both worlds, it will most likely come only because that person has sacrificed something much more: their own ends.

I have also said that this is probably the deepest fact of our human condition. It is primordial, coming from before we ever existed on this earth, and is deeply engrained in our genes and our culture. It is therefore surprising how ill equipped we are at coping with loss, or, indeed, preventing it in the first place. The above spoke to how you may keep or “win back” a loved one in your life, but it only addressed half the picture. Your deep relationship with a single person often causes you to lose sight of the potential deepness of relationships with others — others who can be there for you when you face loss, but who can only truly be there for you if you are there for them from the very beginning. This lack of sight might be the fault of the overly-individualized culture we live in today, at least in “the West”, in which we concentrate on one object of desire after another, without figuring them into the whole. But most likely it goes deeper than that — the idea that human beings are only now in crisis, that earlier everything was better, is something we have probably been telling ourselves from the very beginning. O! How much better it was back in the day without opposable thumbs!

Every time that you are down, what picks you up again is probably not your self-resolve, your strength of mind and heart — however much these things may help — but rather a close group of friends who can say the right (or wrong) things, who can distract you, or help you see things from a different light. If you are honest to yourself you will realize that any strength you had came from another person, whether a family member or a friend (and the two are not mutually exclusive). This is also nothing new, really, as it belongs to the human condition; yet it seems like we go about both making friends and forming close relationships all the wrong way: We begin with having something in common — which is great — but then move in a direction in which our commonalities collide, or simply dissolve. We, each and every one of us to some degree or another, act as if our friends are just friends, just people to hang out with to have a good time, or to make us feel better when we are down. And certainly this is partially true, but there is much more to it. Our friends are also our points of contact to reality, our community of friends becomes the environment in which we live, and the commonalities we share are also the ones we pass on.

What this means is that having friends is more than knowing a group of individuals whom you like. Like any environment or community — just like any relationship — you have to work towards maintaining it, nurturing it, and helping it grow both inwardly and outwardly. What this means is communication, reaching out to your friends with your problems before they become problems, and allowing and encouraging them to do the same. This seems so obvious, and clearly we all do it to some extent, but I don’t see that it is yet truly conscious in our collective zeitgeist. We still see reaching out to people either as some sort of cost or a last resort, and our culture seems to actively discourage coming together for reasons beyond superficial pleasures. Therefore, depending on who we are or what stage we are in in our lives, we may not have a healthy community environment around us when we need it the most. When we lose someone, then, we may fall into despair and depression with no one around to pull us back up again.

In the end we therefore have to start from the very beginning. We have to talk about the things that could lead to loss well before we actually lose anything or anyone. To do that we also have to encourage our friends to do the same, to actually give people the opportunity not just to be our friends, but to become part of a community. Encouragement means having an open ear and open heart in addition to an open, wagging mouth. Our friend are our friends mostly by chance, but they become a part of and remain in our community of friends because we actively hold them to our hearts. This also means, of course, seeking out those people we already know and love who compliment us, who encourage us where we are strong and support us where we are weak, and also to recognize their strengths and their weaknesses. It is a sad truth that we cannot simply become or remain friends with everyone we first meet, but we have to remind ourselves that the people who compliment us the most are those, depending on where we are and how long we have lived and loved, who are already in our lives, people with whom we already share some connection, some commonality, some deeper meaning. In the end your friends will be choosing you as well, and because of this, recognizing as above that they are their own persons, you cannot simply let your wild search for the perfect friend who meets all of your desires get in the way of cherishing and nurturing what you already have. This goes for friends, loved ones, family members or lovers.

To conclude, it seems that the obvious still holds true: love and loss come hand-in-hand, and so to have more love in the world and to prevent loss means, in the end, always working for a little bit of both. Whether we meet that special person or make a new acquaintance, we have to see and accept that all of our lives are filled with some measure of love and loss. As I said above, it is important both to recognize that other people are their own persons, and to make some sacrifice for their sake. Important as well is learning to recognize your own personhood, and therefore just how much that other person may be willing to sacrifice something for you in order to avoid loss. Finally, while we all may have a kind of duty to recognize others as persons with their own ends, and to act on that duty through sacrifice, we cannot control what other people do. We alone have to make the decisions whom we love and what we lose, and therefore what we do about it. Otherwise we may lose exactly that person whom we love the most.

To commit yourself to this is not a New Year’s resolution, but a time-old truth that we have to face in order to look forward.

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