Don’t Quote Me: A Sense of Loss in the Midst of Joy

I think a lot about family in the summer. Time at the lake brings full immersion in the waves of nostalgia. I spend evenings flipping through old photo-albums, decades of memories at my fingertips. Looking at the faces of loved ones that have passed reminds me of how things used to be; I laugh at the irrefutable evidence of hairlines that have receded and marvel that, for years, I spent most of my summers without electricity and running water. But lately, summer has been a prompt for future-think.

One evening, several years ago, my father took me out boating. My daughter, maybe six at the time, was with us. The sun was setting over a mirror-calm lake, our bellies were full of delicious home cooking – everything about the moment was perfect. And I had the overwhelming urge to cry.

The joy of the moment felt like too much to bear and the weight of the future felt crushing – the realization that these moments will end. As my parents age, I find myself wondering how many more of these memories we have ahead. How many more of those sunset boat rides? I’ve come to the lake every summer for over 30 years, and not much has changed. But how much longer will my father be able to start the motor? How many more sunny days will my mother be able to cannonball off the raft? Maybe many more, but definitely fewer than last year, and the year before that.

I try to embrace some moments more tightly because I’m starting to recognize the brevity of this season of life. It’s not just my parents. My role in motherhood is changing – fast. I struggle to lift Levi up; he doesn’t fit on my hip anymore. While I love the independence – celebrate it – it can still feel like a loss.

A few months ago I was reading E. L. Konigsburg’s A View From Saturday. In it, one of the main characters has experienced a very traumatic accident that leaves her wheelchair-bound. It, of course, impacts her life in significant ways. She goes on to lead her team of academic quiz competitors to victory, and when I read the passage about her reaction to this major triumph, the words ran true.

Mrs. Olinski felt a strange sense of loss. She did not feel like a loser, but she did feel a sense of loss. She drove for miles worrying about it. Finally, almost involuntarily, she said out loud, ‘Win some. Lose some.’ She glanced at Mr. Singh and laughed. ‘Why did I say that?’ 

Mr. Singh replied, ‘Because it is how you feel at this moment, Mrs. Olinski.”

“I am happy that we won, Mr. Singh. But I don’t understand why I feel a sense of loss. This is not like my accident when my loss was overwhelming. Why, after this wonderful victory, do I feel that something is missing?”

“Because something is.” Miles hummed past before his voice floated back to her. “For many months now, you have been in a state of perpetual preparation and excitement. Each victory was a preparation for the next. You are missing future victories. Have you enjoyed the journey out, Mrs. Olinski?”

“Very much. Every cupful…”

E. L. Konigsburg

I’m already missing future boat rides on the lake. I’m already missing phone calls to my Mom. Already missing baby teeth and boys that can fit on my hip. I’m already missing the gaggle of American nieces and nephews that descend on the lake every second summer – for years it was the pure chaos of pack-and-plays, diapers, and watching toddlers navigate the rocky shoreline. Now many of them are poised to start summer jobs, leave for college and spread their wings. Will we ever all be together again?

I don’t want to distract from the moment by living with one foot behind and another ahead, but sometimes accounting for the past and the future can help bring into sharper focus just how blessed I’ve been and also how special these moments, here and now, really are.

I don’t know what a day, a week, or a month will bring. Today is here and I try, not always successfully, to embrace it. I stress and rush and cry. But I also binge and savour; prioritize adventure over possessions.

In A View from Saturday, Mr. Singh concludes the exchange with this sage advice:

“Now, you must put down anchor, look around, enjoy this port of call. Your stay will be brief. You must do it, Mrs. Olinski.”

Today I’m putting my anchor down, looking around and enjoying the port of call. The stay may be brief but oh how I’ve enjoyed the journey out. Every cupful.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Quote Me: A Sense of Loss in the Midst of Joy”

  1. Elisabeth, you will be shaking your head if and when you ever see this comment. Here’s Anne again, commenting on a super-old post. 🙂 You linked to this post months ago in another, more recent post, and I was so intrigued by the title that I saved it, intending to read it when I “had the chance”. Sigh. And then time got away from me, and here we are.

    This really spoke to me, and highlighted something that has been circling around my brain recently – the idea of *paying attention*. I mentioned this in a comment on – I think – your post about cherry trees blossoming. Recently I’ve become much more aware of the importance of paying attention to the moment I am in, to the world around me as it is now, and to the people who move in and out of my days. I have more thoughts on this, but paying attention helps me to be truly in the present moment, and to ensure that I *remember* the present moment as it slips past. If I zip through my days, instead, they become one blurry jumbled mess.

    So I try – hard – to pay attention. To live in the moment but also imprint it for the future. It sounds as if you do the same. <3

    1. Yes to all of this, Anne! And so nice to see commments pop up on older posts that I wrote when I was just starting to post to this site <3

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