Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Art of Losing

"The art of losing isn’t hard to master." So wrote the poet Elizabeth Bishop in her poem "One Art."

I have been practicing the art of losing since the day I was born. I lost my first mother on that day and would not find her again for almost thirty years. As an adoptee, my birth loss was particularly acute, but all of us, truly, enter the world in a moment of loss. The womb is our first lost home. We can never return.

After that, a million other losses, all leading toward the day we leave behind what remains. If there is one thing we are here on this earth to do, it is to practice the art of losing.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The Buddhist path of non-attachment? 

Can I claim to be a master?
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
If there was one thing about the childhood me that drove my adoptive mother up the wall, it was my tendency to lose things. My bathing suit for swim team. My retainer. The worst offense: the child-sized antique ring that had been my grandmother's. A pretty sapphire. I took it off while getting ready to help paint a fence with my girl scout troop, and it was never seen again.

Does frequency equal mastery?
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
In graduate school I briefly dated, and was dumped by, one of the other graduate students with whom I shared an office. After the break up, I posted a copy of this poem above my desk, trusting he would see it and feel the sting of my wit. (I should perhaps have titled this blog post "When English Majors Do Passive Aggressive.")

That loss, as it turned out, was indeed minor league stuff compared to other losses that lay ahead of me. My divorce from my oldest daughter's father may now be something I can look back on with perspective, seeing all the ways that it propelled me toward something better in the long run, but at the time, it felt like a death.

And the losses that, inevitably, lie ahead of me in the future ... I don't even want to contemplate.

The art of losing isn't hard to master?

I can't say I agree. There is perhaps no other art that I will ever practice so much with so little to show for my efforts.

Victor Habbick,


  1. As a kid, I could never keep watches: I lost them or they stopped. I never liked that book titled "Necessary Losses" because I feel that a loss should not be necessary. I like the rhythm of this piece. It reminds me in a way of a UU World essay on the Zen of Ice Hockey that reminds us all to practice falling down -- and getting up again.

  2. And now I have that song stuck in my head: I get knocked down. But I get up again.