It’s 2015, and with the passing of the equinox, we’ve made it about halfway through the calendar year. It also happened to be Father’s Day weekend, which, while I’m happy to celebrate by acknowledging my own father, did not go by without the somber recognition of friends who were unable to celebrate with theirs. Mother’s Day is a similarly bittersweet holiday, as is Valentine’s Day – which, formerly the holiday dividing couples and singles, has now matured to quietly whispered prayers to heal the hearts of those suffering from broken engagements, divorces, and untimely deaths. Memorial Day and New Year’s can also bring to mind the losses we’ve suffered directly or by proxy, so that by July we start to feel like we’ve been sitting shiva for six straight months.
In part, this is the reality of getting older. Losses occur as time goes by – whether by the accumulation of random chance or by the predictable process of aging. Loss can be ubiquitous and indiscriminate; anyone reading this article, or who could read this article, has likely experienced it. Loss has more forms than water; more varieties than ice cream. And it can be as large or as small as our own shadow.
So we build up a collection of scars, of every type and depth. Some are mental – the phobias and the fixations. Many are emotional – the melancholy and the heartbreak. A few are even physical – just a visible reminder of a time when our footing wasn’t so sure. Both the metaphorical and literal scar tissue heals enough for us to survive, but not enough to be fully functional. It covers our wounds, but doesn’t actually make us whole again.
Even the heroes of legend aren’t exempt. Achilles’ heel was left vulnerable by his mother’s imperfect baptism. Superman’s kryptonite were pieces of his destroyed homeworld. The past has a way of clinging to us and making everyone equally mortal. When gods among us are brought low by singular flaws, what chance do we mere mortals have to find happy endings amidst a world of imperfections?
So little by little we give up. Gradually we withdraw. And eventually we stop short our own progress, preemptively, to avoid the anticipated setback. We can only see heartbreak in a sea of friendly faces. We don’t trust others to be kind and gentle, and we don’t trust them not to abandon us if they are. And more deeply, we don’t trust ourselves. As broken as we are, it’s difficult to imagine being good for someone else. So we avoid forming bonds with others because we don’t want to subject them to our own rough edges. And if we give in to the compulsion to run away, we don’t want to cause them the same sense of loss that has torn holes in our soul.
The feeling of loss is lonely. But we aren’t alone – each will handle it differently, but the people you meet all share a common sense of loss. They will be quiet or loud, shy or gruff, selfish or protective. So try to be kind as you make your way through the world, because everyone has a story – and like you, they find themselves a little incomplete. Your classmate seems aloof, but she’s afraid to be open after losing her grandfather – invite her to coffee so she can share her favorite stories of him. Your father worries about your ski trip because he broke his collarbone when he was young – tell him that you appreciate his concern and assure him that you will be careful.
More importantly, be kind to yourself – forgive yourself for being a little broken, because in truth, we are all a little broken. Tomorrow will come, even if you stand still, so give yourself the chance to do something great. The world doesn’t disappear when you close your eyes, so give yourself the chance to see something beautiful. And it’s OK to love while flawed, because the people you love will be flawed too. You’re scared; so are they. You’re vulnerable; so are they. Even imperfect, they might be worth it; even imperfect, you probably are too.