When I was younger, I wanted to hold on to all of the people, places and things that were important to me. I didn’t think anything would ever change, and I didn’t want it to anyway.
The friends I made in elementary school over lunches and recesses would be my friends forever. I’d never leave the city I was born in, or abandon the woods I played in growing up. My belongings would be mine for all time, even if they did get careworn.
I think we all feel like that as kids. The feeling of constancy is comforting, but it’s a childish illusion that we grow out of, like believing in the tooth fairy or being afraid of things in the dark.
Every adult knows that nothing stays the same forever. Sometimes change is the only constant you can count on, and we all grapple with loss eventually.
We learn that lesson in different ways. Often, relationships are the first thing we lose: childhood friends move away, cherished family members or pets pass and we get dumped (or we do the dumping).
Jack Kerouac taught me something about the concept of loss and how to deal with it. He was famous as an author for his style of writing, called “Spontaneous Prose,” which was just putting down whatever came into his head.
In the 1960s and at the request of other literary figures, Kerouac set down a list of thirty elements essential to spontaneous prose he called “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.”
Some parts of the list seem to have nothing to do with the writing process; for instance, technique number three is “Try never get drunk outside your own house.”
That’s good advice, but it’s worth noting that Kerouac was an alcoholic who died at the age of 47.
Technique number 19 is only three words long: “Accept loss forever.” Kerouac may have been referring to something specific, but those three words apply to any situation. I’ve adopted them as one of my mantras.
Loss is universal; we all experience it. No matter what it is you lose, it hurts. But if you dwell on that loss instead of dealing with it, you get sick. Loss sickness makes you take what you already have for granted. It makes you lose more than you lost in the first place.
Whenever I feel like I’ve hurt someone’s feelings or lost a friend, I repeat those three words to remind myself that sometimes there is no redemption, no going back.
If you cut someone down, you may never be able to fix what you did. If you choose to end a relationship, then really end it. Don’t stay with it in your mind, especially after the other person has moved on.
We have a tendency to do that, especially with romantic relationships. That same feeling of constancy that comforted us as children makes us want to keep things always the same. It can feel impossible to go on with your life without that constant, but knowing when to let go instead of holding on is the only way to grow.
Loss hurts, but it’s a necessary and inevitable part of life. Accept it when it happens to you. Instead of wasting energy trying to put things back the way they were, appreciate what you had and where you can go from here.