Different Kinds of Losses

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I am not good with losses and there have been several in the last three weeks. And, these are not the “usual” losses, like death of a close family member or friend. These are less “dramatic losses” or losses at a distance or a risk of loss but losses nonetheless. Let me explain.

I live in DC and one of my closest neighbors is deploying. Yes, I am going to her installation at her new post in several weeks — half way around the world. But I will miss her voice. I will miss our walks. I will miss our excursions. I will miss seeing her in the evening for a glass of wine or for pressed French Roast Coffee in the a.m. She is not disappearing; she is deploying. I feel left behind while I recognize the important work she is doing for us all. I miss the small stuff.

Add to this: I just left a place where I was for a month as a writers retreat with my partner — a place literally on the water. If you were any closer to the water, you’d be in the water. And, I miss the waves. I miss the regularity of the tides. I miss the colors in the sky. I miss the sunsets. I miss the stars. I miss the house lights reflecting in the water. I miss kayaking. I miss fried clams. I miss the peace. I miss the space in my head where I can write and think and reflect. Obviously it is not gone forever but the experience of place matters. It matters a lot.

Add to this: the College of which I saw president some 5 years ago is going out of existence unless my last ditch efforts to save it prove fruitful. It is not for the lack of trying by the small group of us committed to continuity. I remain firm that small colleges do NOT have to die. But, the institution had its last Commencement; staff and faculty are scattering; students have left. There is more than enough blame there — and two new lawsuits with which the former president and Board will have to deal. I am struck by how both sad and angry I am at this loss, a loss that did not need to happen. A death that was unnecessary if steps had been taken a year or so earlier, if a different vision and creativity had been deployed. In a twist, I spoke to the candidate who was NOT chosen for the Presidency recently; that just made matters worse. Way worse. Those conversations do not change things — especially when blame is not accepted by the just departed leadership for what they did not do and for what they did do. Own the errors. That’s healing.

Add to this the story in the NYTimes about UNC’s children’s cardiac surgery unit and its outsized, and I’d add unnecessary, rates of complications and deaths. How lacking in self-reflection were the leaders that they could not see what was clearly before them? Did they knowingly put children at risk or did their own sense of worth blind them to truth? A big error in a physician or leader. Did they not listen to each other? Another error in a physician or leader? Did they lack teamwork and transparency and trust? Another error in a healthcare setting.

Finally, I saw the documentary Free Solo. For me, it was anger making and sad. Apart from the obvious shortcomings of the hero, I was struck by his willingness to so cavalierly confront death — he seemed self absorbed and self interested (albeit prepared) to test his mettle and risk his life. He seemed unaware of the impact of his acts on others; he was willing to defy death; we all die he observed; it is just a question of when. I didn’t like the idea of taunting death. I get thrill seeking. I get the high from risk. I don’t get putting one’s life at such risk …. that isn’t heroism in my book. Heroism is helping others. Free solo was about loss of humanity for me. Loss of emotions that govern or appear in most of us.

So, losses abound in different settings and in different ways. They are surely not all experienced the same way. Is it any wonder that I am struggling with processing loss?

And, on the upside, today I read to children from my two new books. That is the opposite of loss. It is like getting a human gas tank filled with hope and energy and laughter and joy. It is a chance to get re-centered in a different way …. gaining not losing.

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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