December 22, 2013 by Heather Harris
Our galaxy contains a black hole into which our solar system, including Earth, will ultimately collapse. Some people find this fact terrifying, but why is that? It’s an inherently human attitude that we will go on forever living the way we do because we know nothing different. Our Earth has been through a lot. It’s old, and it’s seen massive loss, massive changes to its climate and its surfaces. When everything else in our universe has an expiration date, even the stars, what makes us think our world, our Earth, is any different?
My grandmother died of lung cancer when I was in seventh grade. It was the first death of a loved one that I ever had to deal with, and I struggled with it. I loved my grandma. She shared my passion for art, and I looked up to her both artistically and personally. She was a strong woman who fought fiercely for those she loved, and I admired her for it. Then all of a sudden, she was gone. My grandfather and great-grandmother followed her within the year, leaving my family broken and hurting in the wake of their passing. I remember many a night staring up at the sky asking God why it had happen the way it had.
I’ve always been fascinated by the depths to be found in the night sky. Billions of tiny pinpoints of light that appear at dusk only to seemingly dissolve into the bright blue of dawn, melting into one giant circle that illuminates the Earth and drowns out the darkness that lingers behind. The truth is though, there is always night, a darkness looming that can always be brightened but never erased. Even in the daylight there are remnants of it. You can see it in the shadows cast by solid forms that light can’t quite pass through, distorted shapes changing in length and position as the sun treks its arched 24-hour path through the sky each day— a never-ending circular rhythm of life on earth.
We humans are dark pits of night that absorb daylight, going through it like the fuel in a gas tank, rumbling and groaning when we are running low. We are empty spaces, who, when filled with light, are ripe with joy and hope in the promise of a fresh new day. Then as the light runs out, darkness slowly returns and pulls down on us like gravity on matter, connecting our bodies to the core of the physical reality we live in.
As we go through life, we are constantly growing in and out of things, shedding dead skin, renewing red blood cells, expelling CO2 from our lungs, becoming something new, and beginning new phases of life. Through everything, I’ve found that losing gives us greater strength to bear the force of gravity pushing downward on our shoulders. Rising may take more time and energy to accomplish than the initial fall, but it doesn’t have to be more difficult. Loss doesn’t have to be a curse if we allow it to bless us and strengthen our character. The pain and destruction that comes with loss is what makes us value what we gain, what rises from the ashes to breathe new life into cold, dead air.
I’ve lost a lot of things in my lifetime—family members, best friends, pets, respect for politicians, boyfriends, cell phones that disappear into the vast void of the universe without a trace, numerous backs of earrings that apparently go the same place as my cell phones, my innocence, my baby teeth that my father still keeps in a tiny plastic bottle labeled with my name in Sharpie…What I’ve come to learn is no matter what I lose or who or what I lose it to, the void the loss creates always leaves room for something new to grow or settle in, not necessarily replacing what’s been lost, but renewing the space it once occupied in my mind and heart.
I read somewhere that the leaves of trees are most beautiful when they are just about to die, to fall from their branches and crunch beneath our feet as we shuffle along trying to stay warm in the brisk, autumn air. Soon the trees are stripped of color. They are left with nothing but bare shivering branches to brave the winter cold that’s ahead. But despite their obvious vulnerability, they stand tall and sturdy through icy winds and flurries of snowfall, all because of the hope of life renewed, their branches blooming once again in the spring.
I used to hate autumn because of its implications. Autumn meant cold was coming to jar me from the warm golden yellows and oranges of summer. It signified the coming death of greenness, plants, growth, and freedom. Autumn always felt very solemn and serious. It was the deathbed of the seasons. It’s incredibly depressing if you only look at it from the point of view of all that is lost. It’s so much more than that. It’s hope. It’s the burying of seeds that spring up through thawed dirt in spring. It’s not just the reminder that life ends, but the promise of the renewed life to follow.
When I was young, I used to be amazed at each year’s passing. Time passes so slow in the moment, and then suddenly you wake up and realize you’re another year older. Now, here I am, a semester away from graduating college with a four-year degree and time seems to have sped up even faster. Ultimately, loss is inevitable. Death is inevitable, and our lives are just a blip on the timeline.
I remember reaching the end of a book series I had been absorbed in for two weeks and feeling a deep sadness in my heart that it was over. It was like I was grieving over lost loved ones, over a world that was now barring my entrance. I had to accept the ending as it was and move on. Why is it that humans are more easily able to accept transitions to unknown things as long as we’re still within the context of the world we know? Why are we so afraid to let go?
I heard someone say once that life is just a series of little resurrections. We lose things. That’s just how life is, but that doesn’t have to be the end of them. Nature reveals to us a constant cycle of death and rebirth. Every loss has the potential to become a beautiful story of redemption and new life. It’s normal and healthy to grieve, to feel the raw empty space and accept that what once filled it will never come back, at least not exactly the same. Then it’s time to let go, to give up the ghost as the trees let loose their leaves to the mercy of the wind in the fall, and rise back up with new resolve and transformed perspective. The human race is so clumsy. We are constantly falling on our faces, tripping over each other, struggling to climb towards a light that none of us can ever fully reach. There is no one out there who has never fallen or made a mistake, no one who has never lost anything in the process. What makes the difference is how we react to the losses we experience. We can see it as depressing and life shattering, or we can see it as a renewal of life and walk forward in the light of a new understanding and perspective.
What will you choose?