March 21, 2020 • 5 minutes
Let me tell you
a story —
two of Them
Moved through the mountains
as the snow left behind
wet rocks, trickles of
and cold mud—
Moved through the mountains, from low
to high, two of them
through the cold mud
and over drying rocks.
They had with them
red willow stems
from lower down
and larch boughs that they cut to sleep on.
They stayed in them
to summer when
the deer came higher for cool grass
and marmots whistled across valleys.
Then it was
that rain came more often
it rained a lot, and the slopes became
It was so quiet there, they knew
that it was quiet
because they had heard noise elsewhere
—and they knew that this here,
this was quiet.
Staying at lakes, they went looking
for wild kinnickinnic, loved by bears
its thick, glossy leaves
and soft red berries.
what time they had.
They laid down
as fall came
and snow collected on them.
And some say they became boulders,
or always were.
And some say they became trees.
For various reasons, some of which I understand, and some I don’t, I have experienced several episodes of ambiguous loss over the last several years. As psychology and relationships have been put under the microscope of science, terms like ambiguous loss have been invented. The term means the ending of a relationship or life circumstance that remain unresolved. Due to the unresolved aspect, our minds, the constant inventors, try and come to some conclusion about the situation—despite a lack of facts or communication. This often leads to vicious cycles of self-blame, blaming others, or depression. Ambiguous loss can happen through the death of someone that doesn’t make sense, the end of a friendship where agreements (to be civil, to treat one another as human, to attempt to see both sides) were broken and the hurt was never resolved… and in other ways.
Though fancy terms like this often cause me to cast a weather eye in their direction, this one actually does put a phrase to something that I think many people experience, yet don’t know how to understand or resolve. The painful point of ambiguous loss is the unresolvable aspect. How does a person move forward with something that is unresolvable? For some reason, the only thing that has helped me is embracing a simple fact: you are not alone.
A person tends to need other people. The fact of knowing that someone else, not even someone necessarily present, cares and thinks about them, or is even experiencing what they are experiencing, matters. When people or relationships are lacking, it is maybe a default to look at oneself and try to determine what’s wrong within, or what’s wrong with the world. I’m guilty of both these things, maybe everyone is from time to time. So when year after year, friendship after friendship, ends in ambiguous loss (is it distance? did I say something? are people busy? do they care? am I likeable? why is society so stressful? what really matters?) it tends to drive a person into the ground. To be honest, I was often thinking about suicide this summer, because I was driven into the ground after many such events. Add to the fact that it seems impossible for my writing to be published, I came to the conclusion that I was adding no value to the world—in fact since everyone seemed to abandoning me, maybe all I was adding was pain—and thus the old story of “they would all be better off without me.”
Of course, this story is false, and suicide is always a mistake. Yet from deep in the pit of despair it’s hard to understand that. (I’m OK now).
Last night I was talking to Anna, feeling down that even in the midst of a time when I hear many people are coming together, mending hurts, focusing on kindness, I had yet to receive any notes or comments of care from friends. While this is selfish (why aren’t people talking to me?) it has to be something a lot of people are feeling. And I realized last night that maybe the fact of the matter is, with all these never-to-be-resolved situations that pounded me into the ground like a railroad spike—that these same people, with whom I have the disagreements, are just as afraid about trying to resolve them as I am. And even though these situations may never be resolved, I found comfort in that fact, and like a bread-crumb trail into another place it led me on to a hopefully different understanding, of resolution without resolve.
I wish for people a perspective shift
Current times are unique, because they hard for almost everyone right now. I, as a constant and probably neurotic observer, have felt witness to degradation of social contracts and real care through the overabundance of exhaustive communication. I wish for people a perspective shift. Right now, it’s probably easy as hell to be completely entombed in technology. But the dopamine cycle that rages inside of us through the spinning feeds of images tends to leave us exhausted and unsatisfied, with a dull ache behind the eyes and an empty space inside that cannot be filled by those immaterial and forgettable experiences. I wish for people to seek out something more real. I wish for them to set aside the unimportant and to seek silence from which constant stimulation protects us. Not to claim I know a prescription, but to express that honesty, forgiveness, connection, understanding, and the effort that drives such things maybe harder yet more important than cutting the old habit rut deeper. Write letters, go on walks, bake bread, call old friends, stare at the sky, watch the greening ground, listen to the rain, watch snow melt, listen to the wind, call your grandparents, turn your internet off, learn to cook better, think of others, more importantly do for others. If you have someone in your life you can call a friend, you are wealthy. If you have a relationship that could be mended, attempt to mend it. These are all obvious things, that, for some reason, have ended up in the broom closet of our lives. I think they are worth more than that.
I love you all,