Losing and Finding
Someone close to me suffered a loss. A real one. It’s something that, without question, will impact her life forever.
What do we do when that happens to people we love?
We offer our company, maybe some food, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, an open heart.
We also share their rage and sense of injustice. Life didn’t keep its promise! We, too, raise our fists and shout and cry. We also offer platitudes, easy phrases that someone might have once offered us. It’s not a door closing, it’s another one opening too fast. It’s the beginning of a new chapter. You will be stronger for the experience.
Well, platitudes usually become platitudes because they’re true—nothing gets repeated until it’s a cliché if there isn’t some truth in it—but those phrases are as hard to hear as they are sometimes difficult to say. It is our nature to want to talk, to soothe, to be compassionate, but sometimes the words just make everything sound worse.
Now I’m going to say something that you might think is silly, but I swear I’m not trying to be flip. I am so far from being flippant right now. What do I really want to offer my friend?
I want her to take up a hobby. Maybe start collecting something. Anything. Plastic gumball charms, quilts, teapots, keys, postcards—doesn’t matter. I think having something, some thing, to seek, to find, to hold in her hand, will give her just enough direction away from her sadness to allow her to forge a new path. Yes, I’m lapsing into those clichés. But I believe in stuff. I believe in collecting and touching and sorting. I believe in arranging things on a shelf, hanging things on a wall. I am a magpie who wants to pick up shiny bits and weave them into my nest so I can see the beauty even if I’m alone in spotting it. And frankly, I think magpies are happier for their collecting. A world of magpies is messier, busier, fuller, and yes, shinier. More beautiful.
Every time I read another article on cleaning our houses, de-cluttering, reorganizing, I want to scream and warn people against the conspiracy. Are people really happier without their matchbook collections and jars of pens and pencils? Is the cigar box filled with old postcards covered in spidery handwriting really slowing us down? Does a sleek clean countertop signal organization? Or emptiness? What are we humans if not collectors of experiences and the detritus that comes with them. Should we really fear that if we keep our mother’s teacups and our children’s artwork it is a step on the road to hoarderdom?
So in addition to railing against the fates, I want to take my loved one to a flea market. I want to make her look at funny old things, to embrace memories and laugh at silly and absurd objects. Look–someone collected those shells and made them into a funny monkey playing the guitar. That’s what a human being did! People can leave us and die and do bad things but they can also be silly and ridiculous and passionate about the smallest joys.
I also believe in making things. Art, soup, bread, a sweater, a collage. I believe in busy hands and a lively sense of wanting, seeking, finding, crafting, repurposing. So after I take my friend to the flea market, if she’ll let me, I’ll teach her to knit–to follow a pattern that keeps a promise.
But first, we’ll go out and look at some stuff.
Sharon Fiffer is the author of the Jane Wheel mystery series published by St. Martin’s Minotaur. She her husband Steve Fiffer have co-edited three acclaimed collections of literary memoirs: Home; Family; and Body.