Lost and Found: A Different Way to Think About Your Life

656px-Lost

A very old question asks you whether you think of your glass as half-full or half-empty. But permit me to make a suggestion: think of your life in terms of what you’ve lost and what you’ve found over all the years you’ve spent on the planet.

Take all the victories and failures, the things you can do and the things you can’t anymore, the friendships you’ve lost and the ones you’ve gained and put them in a basket. Don’t forget to include what you’ve learned over the course of your life — learning in terms of knowledge found in books and the knowledge that only comes from experience. Add your greatest joys and your worst moments. Be sure to fill the bushel with physical skills and abilities too, talents you had once upon a time and all those you still possess, including the new ones.

If you do this, I’ll bet you find that your container includes some of the following:

  • That you are wiser than you used to be, in some small ways and maybe even a big way or two. Perhaps this is part of what is called Maturity.
  • That, especially as you approach mid-life, you are less easily rattled by some of the things that used to overwhelm you. To some extent, you’ve probably learned to cope or even mastered fears you thought you never could.
  • That you might not be as spry or as fast in a footrace, but that you care less about it than you did in your youth.
  • That you act more like the tortoise and less like the hare because you know (most of the time) that “slow and steady wins the race.” Or maybe just because you’re not quite as fast as you used to be and have figured out a strategy to deal with that, kind of like a baseball pitcher who loses his fastball and still wins by dint of craft, guile, and perhaps developing a new pitch.

Glass_half_full_kind_of_day

I’m sure, as you reach for things to put into the basket, that you will remember how much some of those that are gone mattered to you, and how some still do. But, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised to see that you’ve replaced a number of them, perhaps with people or activities or skills that compensate for many of those that have disappeared. Maybe not all, or, just maybe, just as much or more than what you’ve lost.

What we are talking here is about adaptation. Adapting to life and to aging. Grieving and moving on. Licking your wounds and coming back to find out what the universe still holds that is good for you. And that sometimes what is good for you is also good for others around you, in part because of the feeling your generosity gives you.

Not everyone can do this. If we’ve had too many losses, some of us don’t even go to the “Lost and Found” Department to find out whether what we value is there. Part of the problem is that no one told us that the “Lost and Found” Department of Life isn’t like the one in school or in a department store. In those places, if you are lucky, you find exactly what you lost — the thing itself.

No, life’s “Lost and Found” Department is different. It holds every one of the things you’ve lost and doesn’t usually give those exact items back, all precisely as we left them or as they left us. But if you go there and look hard enough, you just might find objects or capacities — people or experiences — as good as what you lost, a few better, a number worse. And if you travel there with the right attitude, you can find things that are priceless. One of those surprises is not actually a thing. It is the knowledge that it is often possible to adapt to those that are truly gone.

It’s a little like the way a heart breaks, a love is lost, and one finds that it heals or someone else enters your life or other people and activities compensate you. The “Lost and Found” Department of Life doesn’t work perfectly, of course. You must be willing to make the best of it. But, there is one thing that is essential if you are to give it and life a chance.

You have to go there and see what it contains. Without that, there is no finding what you’ve lost; or something new; or something better; or something that will do.

No guarantees, not even safety. But life is full of surprises, as I said. It might be time that you forget about looking at glasses half-empty or half-full, and look instead beyond what’s been lost and see what you can find in that new place, the yet to be discovered things in life’s “Lost and Found.”

Good luck to you. Good luck to us all.

This article was inspired by Frank Bruni’s February 1, 2014 New York Times essay on the subject of Peyton Manning and aging, called Maturity’s Victories.

The top image is the Lost Properties Office symbol at a railway station in Poland. The author is Mohylek. The second picture by Pete Unseth is called Glass Half Full. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Getting Over a Breakup: The Role of Love, Hate, and Time

512px-Castle_on_a_hill_(7964914374)

Most of us believe that hate is the opposite of love. Is it really? Both are intense emotions. If love captured you before a breakup, hate indicates a continuing strong attachment to that person even after. Put differently, if you are still angry, you are not “over” him or her. You have not let go. You have not moved on.

To continue feeling either love or hate means that the “relationship” is quite alive, even if it is quite different from what it once was. Perhaps you haven’t seen the person or spoken to him in years. He matters to you, even if it isn’t in a good way. He is living inside of you, playing on your emotions, influencing how you think and what you do; an imaginary companion who might not “know” you exist, but who shadows your existence.

As Edgar Rice Burroughs said:

I loved her. I still love her, though I curse her in my sleep, so nearly one are love and hate, the two most powerful and devastating emotions that control man, nations, life.

If you are really “over” someone else, you are (more or less) indifferent. You simply don’t care any more. You don’t spend any significant amount of time thinking about him or her, recalling either the memories of aching beauty or breaking heart-strings. And when something does remind you of the person, at most you might feel a bit wistful, but certainly not depressed or resentful. No, that individual now matters very little.

How do you get there, get over that lost love? Getting angry is a part of the process, just as allowing yourself the sadness of his loss. Talking to friends, or perhaps a therapist is useful, too. They need only listen to you and provide support, not judgment or advice. Don’t expect to heal quickly, but avoid holding on too long, hoping for love’s return. Don’t make comparisons to what others have gone through. One size doesn’t fit all.

Throwing out photos, old letters, and deleting old voice-mail and electronic messages can help. Don’t lacerate yourself by re-reading the same letters and greeting cards forever. Hold a mock-funeral service if you need to.

A quick return to dating usually doesn’t improve things, since some of your lingering emotions can cause you to become involved with your new acquaintance too deeply, too soon, on the rebound. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you will begin to date but won’t permit yourself to get too close. Before you know it you will be back in a new and probably ill-conceived romance.

Don’t resort to alcohol or other temporary fixes that, in the end, can only make it worse. Don’t distract yourself too much, but do try to be active and get on with life.

Beware of bathing in your sadness. The shower of tears is too painful to endure longer than necessary. Remember that others have suffered in just this way. Do, eventually, get off the cross. We need the wood. It gives us something to build with.

You may have to reevaluate your former love. If you still believe that he was a paragon of virtue and perfection, you’re inclined to think of yourself as unworthy of his affections. If, however, you can see him realistically, you are more likely to recognize that perhaps his loss of you was greater than yours of him, even if he isn’t aware of it. Get a ladder and pull the S.O.B. off the pedestal (in your imagination only)!

Don’t expect vindication, one of the rarest commodities in the world. Waiting for your ex to apologize for not realizing your value is like waiting for next Christmas when you are 10-years-old and the calendar reads December 26th.  It almost never happens and when it does, it is much too late. Moreover, a search for the right words or actions to persuade him to change his mind is a fool’s errand. But then, we are all fools in love.

Although time moves slowly, let time be your friend. You need the tears, so fighting them and controlling them can sometimes be counterproductive, slow recovery down. Most of us survive and learn from these losses. Figure out why you chose this person and take care not to make the same mistake again, especially if you are inclined to put all your relationship eggs in one basket, discovering only after the breakup that you have few friendships to provide you with emotional support.

A breakup is like a mini-death. Treat it that way. Don’t isolate yourself. Remember a time when you felt better and believe that, however impossible it seems now, you will eventually feel better again.

As Oscar Wilde said, since “No man is rich enough to buy back his past,” there is only one direction left to go. Onward.

The top image is called Castle on a Hill by Jimmy McIntyre, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by russavia.