What We Gain Through LossEven during challenging times, we can develop a perspective to see what we can gain through loss. This loss may be of a relationship, a job or an item that holds great meaning. We may gain an appreciation for what we had, for second chances and to heal past hurts.

A friend of mine, who is also a writer, had her laptop stolen from a café.  She stepped away briefly to ask someone about a book he was reading, and when she returned to her table, it was gone.  The computer was replaceable but all that she had stored on it was not. She suddenly lost movies of her children as infants, pictures of her marriage, journal entries that captured fleeting moments.  She was heartbroken, and those of us who know her, felt the anguish with her.

When something like this happens, many of us feel sympathy but we also feel the loss through the experience of empathy.  All of us have lost something, an object that was dear to us or a personal artifact that was infused with memories.

This is my story of loss. It is one of many, but it feels more significant because of what it taught me. Before the days of widely-used personal computers, I used to type out my poems on a word processor and print them out in various stages of edit.  These were my records and “backups’ of my written work. The year was 1992, and I had just graduated from college and moved to San Francisco, the city that held so much hope for my dreams and housed all my favorite punk bands and writers.

I was working full time at a chocolate boutique right off of Union Square. The little store was a refrigerator of chocolate delights. I loved being surrounded by the beautiful treats, decadent packaging and the lulling voice of Ella Fitzgerald (her voice provided most of the muzak for the shop). During certain parts of the evening, business would slow down, so I decided to bring everything that I had written in the last ten years to edit them for a manuscript that I was putting together. Deadlines for poetry chapbook contests were coming up. Using the deadlines as a catalyst, I decided to try and publish all my poems into one publication. I stuffed papers and notebooks into my backpack and walked to work down Market Street from the lower Haight.

Later that night, when the tourist flow stopped, I pulled out my writing and started going through them page by page. I created a pile for the poems that I wanted to include, another for the ones to leave out and possibly throw away.  I made notes, crossed out with red pen and felt so lost in the process that it suddenly was time to close up. Gathering my stuff back together into my bag, I went to bathroom before starting the end of the night chores.  I was gone for five minutes, and someone had run in and stolen my bag with all my writing in it.

I walked home in a stupor and asked a friend to bring me my spare key for my apartment. I thought it was ironic that I had a backup plan for the key but not a single plan B for my writing. That night I lay in bed sleepless and unable to think of one line from my poems, from pieces that I read aloud shared and edited endless of times. How could I even begin to manage writing again? Writing was my reliable and necessary form of expression that now felt so far from me. I was distraught and depressed.

After a few days of walking around like a zombie, I decided to take a hiatus from writing that felt it could go on for years. Even the What We Gain Through Lossencouragement from my poetry group did not sway my resolve to give in long-term to  my writer’s block.

Then I received a call from my boss that I worked for part-time cleaning gyms.  He said that a homeless man called him and said that he had some of my stuff that he found in the garbage.  He found my boss’ number in my planner and decided to call it. My heart was racing, and I agreed to meet him after work.  This kind man’s name was Lester Tate, and he saved my writing.  He gave me back my bag empty of all valuables except the writing. All my pages were there as well as my notebooks.  I was so grateful and gave him some money. He kept looking at me with an odd smile the whole time we were talking. I was so glad that he took the time to make the call. He said he was worried that he might be accused of stealing the bag, but he wanted to get my papers back to me. Thanking him profusely again, I walked away with relief and a huge smile.

When I went home that night, I kissed the pages of my writing and started reading the poems out loud again.  I was amazed to discover that Lester read all of the poems and used my colored pens to comment on them. He wrote things like “so beautiful,”  “I know that feeling,”  “weird line” or “never stop writing like this.”  I read all my poems again with his words gracing them. He felt like my angel of poetry.

Now, whenever I do a reading, I start it out with a dedication to him because he helped me find my words again. Thank you again Lester Tate. I hope you are well and have found many poetic words to carry you through the hard times and inspire beautiful contemplation.

In another happy ending, my friend was reunited with her computer the next day through some bizarre circumstances and acts of kindness.  I was so delighted for her.

My wish is that all of you who have encountered loss of any kind find hope again in either retrieving what you have lost or regaining the appreciation for what you do have. Sometimes loss is just the beginning for rediscovering something near and dear to your experience of life. What we can gain through loss is immeasurable if we can find our way back to hope.

The original version of this essay was published online at Skirt Magazine.

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