A few weeks ago, my computer disappeared.
I had an entire day of worship and activities in Hyde Park and I left my backpack in the narthex, next to a stroller. After the services, washing the chalices, and such, I walked up to depart and my bag was nowhere to be found. I searched the neighborhood and spent an hour and a half watching security camera footage, but nothing suspicious was found at all.
I still don’t know what happened, but thankfully most of my important files were backed up on the cloud and through the power of GMailing drafts and final copies to my friends, and I was able to recreate the other key documents with a little time and trouble but less than expected. Nothing truly crucial was lost.
I’m a bit more sad that two library books from the CPL got stolen!
But what I do have to say is that the computer, the books, my pro-choice buttons, my work badge…all of those were ultimately replaced. They’re possessions. They get lost and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Other parts of your life get lost…that’s another story.
I’m thirty-two years old today. I have a rewarding vocation, a decent job, health insurance, and an IRA. The vocation and my volunteering are where I push myself to do more and better, and in 2016 I have felt real progress in getting better. The rest gives me a foundation to build off, and leaves me with only one worry: the people in my life.
I am surrounded by exceptional people. I don’t want to lose any of them.
I know some will be lost.
These losses range along a spectrum. On the one hand, as mature as I am, I let very tiny things bother me, and when a woman in the nerd culture world who I have the deepest respect for stopped following me on twitter, it rankled for hours. I can’t tell if it was because I gave her a gentle—I thought, but I could be wrong—razzing about sports when our teams faced off or if I inadvertently said something insulting, but I knew this had to be my fault and it made me feel bad.
On the other hand, that is comparatively peanuts. When I was home this summer for my grandmother’s birthday, my dad’s oldest brother came over to help us smoke the largest slabs of brisket you’ve ever seen. I hadn’t seen him in a long while and he was suddenly old: walking with difficulty, taking regular shots, every bit of him going slower. My grandmother herself is still spry and kicking but she’s ninety-five, and all of this has left me with more of a need to reflect on my own mortality, and to treasure what time we have with those nearest to us while we still have it.
Then somewhere in the middle, we have the national climate of 2016 and how it has changed relationships. I have made new and wonderful friends this year thanks to getting politically engaged and speaking out for what I believe is right. But one of my closest friends from high school, a man who gave me so much encouragement and joy during an awkward adolescence and who helped keep me on the Christian road I walk on in a time when I know my faith might have wavered, completely cut me out of his life because of my being outspoken about supporting feminist causes. And I found I had to do the same to another friend from those days, who out of nowhere began point-blank attacking me and my Chicago circle in defense of the white supremacist, misogynist policies of Donald Trump. One of our closest friends from our youth is Jewish—I recently got to spend quality time with her in New York—and the same weekend Trump rallies got filled with chanting of an obscure Nazi slogan, he proudly displayed pictures of himself at said rallies. It felt like a slap in her face and the faces of others we knew, and it was a last straw for me.
All of the above I can react to with varying levels of pain, guilt, and disappointment. Not anger, because anger, as I have increasingly learned, helps nothing. But the final lesson I learn from this is a lesson that goes back to my missing computer.
Because when thinking about what was on my computer that I hadn’t backed up, I remembered the years of iPhone pictures. Most of them have been shared on social media…the important ones that capture memories the most…but when thinking about these pictures during a walk, it suddenly hit me like a slap in the face that I’d lost the only picture I had of me and HER together.
Come on, this essay is called “The Ones That Got Away.” There is always going to be a HER or a HIM involved in such an essay.
She is not my ex-girlfriend. We were never actually in a relationship. But we were something.
We met under unusual circumstances, working on the same sort-of crazy endeavor with a group of equally like-minded people. We got along but weren’t exactly friends. We moved in different social circles, and then she moved across the country.
Two years later, we encountered each other again in Chicago, and at first I saw this smiling, dynamic figure in a gorgeous dress and thought she was somebody else. She was pursuing an opportunity that would bring her back here if all went well. That night, we both drank too much, but we exchanged phone numbers, and she called me a couple weeks later after my birthday…and it turned out that when we were sober we had a lot to say each other. Nothing romantic or sexual. It was more like this: I have a lot of close male friends but masculine conversation is often declamatory and hyperbolic, and the moments we let our guards fully down can be easily overlooked. And talking with my close female friends, especially those with significant others, involves a certain finesse so you don’t unintentionally cross a line too intimate, a line only one person is allowed to cross. With her, maybe it was the distance, maybe it was the way our minds worked with one idea clicking and firing the neuron of the next into our brains with rapid succession, maybe we simply felt good together. But nothing was off limits. We talked about our families, our jobs, the crushing disappointments and little victories of everyday existence. We talked about Virginia Woolf and Leo Tolstoy and classic Hollywood, all things we shared a great love for, and Los Angeles, a city we both had experience in and which we both so hilariously disdained. We talked about our dreams and the things that we were grateful knocked us down so we learned we could get back up again. We talked about our relationships and how they’d let us down. I had a great roomie at that time, and I would hole up in a late-night Starbucks or the bar across the street where there were $3 Rolling Rock cans, or, if I was out of pocket, walk around the possibly rainy, snowy, or windy streets, or spend close to three hours wrapped in a coat and shivering in the building’s unheated entrance foyer, one night a week, month after month.
It was worth it to talk to her, to listen to her, and she was stunned I listened to her because she always felt she was rambling or fretting, and she constantly apologized for bad connections and giant tangents. I laughed and reassured, and all of it was genuine.
Three months in, it dawned on me I loved her. I had fallen in love with her first, but I now had come to fully cherish the intelligence and humor and earnestness she projected, and this was much more than infatuation.
I was planning on coming to where she was for business, and right as we were planning spending time together, she received word she was moving to Chicago. We were ecstatic. And the day we finally saw each other in person again, we went for a long walk and I insisted someone take our picture, arm in arm in early summer clothes on a sunny, windswept day, and I may not have that picture anymore, but rarely again will I ever see someone look so beautiful.
That day, I hesitantly brought up that perhaps we could be more than friends in the future, and it turned out, even though I had thrown another wrinkle into her life transformation, she’d been hesitantly thinking about the same possibility. We spent the next hours talking and laughing with all the same ease as our conversations.
As things turned out, this was the peak of it. We could never quite find the time for calls, and then when she moved, she threw herself into her new life with such force that she point-blank told me that she didn’t want a relationship. I accepted that because it was worth it to be the friend of someone so great…but after that conversation, I only saw her once more, and then she ghosted me out of her life.
It hurt. It left me feeling slowly, utterly drained. I’d told my friends about this remarkable person and now simply wasn’t going to be around anymore. I was devastated for months…and it poured out in my storytelling, in a story of a woman who loses the love of her life and finds that all existence can crash around you.
But when that picture of us slipped from my grasp, I realized I hadn’t thought of her in…well over a year. I’d moved forward. And while it still felt so bittersweet, I wasn’t dwelling. I didn’t feel like I’d stumbled and fallen anymore. I’d learned, and I knew more than ever I wanted to put what I’d learned into practice.
This may be how it definitely is with loss. Not everything can be replaced. No person WILL ever be replaced. But who and what is lost comes into your life and out of it and leaves something behind to learn from, to use as a foundation, to look back on when you need to but not regret.
I am not saying loss is pain-free. The worst kinds may leave a pain that can never fully heal.
But I know now, from what I have shared of my story, and what I have witnessed in those I care about most, is that the particular losses we have fall along these same general degrees. My story is only unique in the specific individuals. In recognizing how others experience the same losses, I find more empathy, more love, more understanding for the people around me.
And on this, my birthday, I have to remember that this empathy and compassion is the greatest gift we give each other.