Losing Gracefully

My spouse and I have a longstanding Shabbat afternoon tradition: a friendly game of Scrabble.

Okay, I admit, it’s not entirely friendly, which he claims is because I’m too competitive and not a graceful loser, or winner. 

I’m sure he’d agree our games used to be more friendly when we first began playing, in the months when we started dating. You could even say they were romantic games of Scrabble back then. We included our kids in family games of Scrabble as soon as they could read. I’d argue it turned competitive when our youngest began beating us regularly, and we instituted a new rule: winner cleans up.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the art of losing gracefully, and not only because of my 8-week Scrabble losing streak. Last week, I lost my prescription sunglasses twice in less than 12 hours—they fell out of my purse into a restaurant booth Thursday night and out of the car into a parking lot Friday morning. Retracing my steps, I was able to reclaim them both times, but the sunglasses will not recover from being run over in the parking lot.

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I’m reminded of the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, which I memorized many years ago. It begins: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master/so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster/Lose something every day.” The poet continues to list the many things that can be lost, from car keys to relationships. 

I’m also reminded of a poem I wrote two years ago, in a Spiritual Poetry Writing class with Donna Baier Stein, teacher, writer, and founder of Tiferet Journal. Eight months into COVID quarantine much of my writing was about loss; this particular poem was about coming to terms with my mother’s memory loss. I remember feeling frustrated that I was unable to visit my parents and in-laws, and it was especially painful having phone conversations with my mother. Rereading my poem today, I find it seems prescient.

In recent months, as she loses her sense of the passage of time and forgets our conversations immediately, I grow to accept losing—I hope gracefully—the mom who raised me.

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Only in my mind
can I speak to her,
and she listens.

In my mind,
I start the engine
and press firmly on the gas.

I drive six, seven,
eight hours, perhaps,
eyes trained on the interstate,
ears tuned to the Hidden Brain
podcasts I’ve missed
in these months
of not commuting to the office.

In my mind,
I am reunited with her,
and she gives life to me again.

I see her resurrecting hope,
love, relationship,
while we walk along the beach,
laughing as the water
reaches our ankles,
sighing as the tide recedes,
and washes away our time together.

Only in my mind
can I be with her again,
and she is not with me.

—Pamela Jay Gottfried (November 12, 2020)