On Loss And Losing
Kathryn Schulz will hold your hand
In the micro-drama of loss, in other words, we are nearly always both villain and victim. That goes some way toward explaining why people often say that losing things drives them crazy. At best, our failure to locate something that we ourselves last handled suggests that our memory is shot; at worst, it calls into question the very nature and continuity of selfhood. (If you’ve ever lost something that you deliberately stashed away for safekeeping, you know that the resulting frustration stems not just from a failure of memory but from a failure of inference. As one astute Internet commentator asked, “Why is it so hard to think like myself?”) Part of what makes loss such a surprisingly complicated phenomenon, then, is that it is inextricable from the extremely complicated phenomenon of human cognition.
In this week’s double issue (congrats, you get a break) of The New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz has one of those perfect essays that takes a treacly sounding subject (loss), and turns it upside-down and inside-out, hits every note, and scratches every itch: linguistic, idiomatic, literal, figurative, historical, political, personal, emotional, physical, psychological, pathological, cultural, and, of course, literary. The result is undeniably pretty; the only treacle you will find is from me, for I have decided to describe the good feeling this piece gave me as snug. Read it and it will hold you tight.
In my defense:
late 16th century (originally in nautical use in the sense ‘shipshape, compact, prepared for bad weather’): probably of Low German or Dutch origin.