Weekly Wrap: The Flip-Side of Loss

by Susan Henderson on January 11, 2008

The times I didn’t think I’d live through, the ones I wouldn’t wish upon anyone and hope to never experience again, are the very times that made me wiser, more compassionate and forgiving, a better lover and friend.

I started to write about a couple of life-changing experiences I’ve had with loss – I’ve had more than a couple, as have you – but there was a pity-party quality to them, and I’ve decided I’d rather talk about my #1 role model, Nelson Mandela.

I’ll keep it short since everyone already knows his story. Two summers ago, we took our kids to Robben Island in South Africa, and toured the prison with one of Nelson Mandela’s former inmates. I was glad to bring my kids there so they could learn at this young age what a remarkable thing it was for this man to have been imprisoned unfairly and given not only hard, but useless, labor for two decades, only to emerge more loving and more committed to justice.

He chose to view prison as a university (“Each one teach one.”) and as he performed his hard labor, he and his inmates considered it “classroom time.” When he was freed, any bitterness or retaliation would have seemed perfectly justified. And yet he said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

I realize I’m talking about choices more than loss. It’s one of those days I don’t have it in me to travel too close to the topic of grief. So be it.

Loss tends to show you what’s important, what you’re made of, what you might value before it’s gone. I suspect, if we slow down a little, we can learn some of those things without having to walk through fire. Maybe today as you’re standing in a long line, tapping your foot, or snapping at your kid for dropping his coat and backpack in the middle of the floor, or complaining about something you don’t have but desperately want… just maybe you’ll find there’s another choice to make – an opportunity to help someone or show love or laugh or just simply realize that if you lost the very things and people you complain about, you would feel devastated.

I’m just saying.


Thank you to my guests this week, David Habbin and Robin Lerner. Thank you to Charles Shaughnessy for sponsoring such an exciting contest. And thank you to everyone who commented, and to those who linked here this week: Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Robin Grantham, Denis Johnson, Wikipedia, treasure(RED)aj, Kim Smith, Laura Benedict, Charles Shaughnessy, Mike Taperell, Robin Lerner, All Kinds of Writing, How Not to Write: The Art of Writing without Writing, A Sp8ce Odyssey, Transmission, and David Habbin. I appreciate those links!


Now, if you haven’t read this week’s interview, go make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy! And if you haven’t entered Charlie’s 200-word contest on the positive side of loss, please do. You won’t be sorry! And if you have a little more time after that, my friend, Churm, has some follow-up analysis on that John-or-Paul survey a lot of us participated in.

Hmm, I feel like ending the week on a preposition, just because I can. Okay, have a great weekend, everyone! See you Monday!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn_Burns_Bass January 11, 2008 at 10:16 am

Ah, yes. Nelson Mandela is one of history’s great men. (And don’t you think he has one of the most brilliant smiles? He laughs from the inside out.) Reading through this reminded me of one of my literary heroes, a man cut from similar cloth as Mandela: Alexander Solzhenitsyn.


Aurelio January 11, 2008 at 10:33 am

(I was having trouble with my browser and LitPark this week, and it kept freezing up whenever I’d open this page, so I’m using a different browser today – weird. So far, so good. I still need to go back and comment on Wednesday’s interview.)

May we all follow Mr. Mandela’s example and learn to be more gracious to those around us today, regardless of their behavior toward us. I think choice and loss are conjoined, in the sense that, how you view the loss, how you respond to it, whether it feels like it or not, you have to make a choice. (Yes, okay, that trite old, cup-half-empty, cup-half-full thing.) Certainly no one wants to suffer loss, but how we deal with it means either growth or stagnation.


Shannon January 11, 2008 at 12:28 pm

You know, sometimes it’s like you are psychic. Thanks for creating such a thoughtful and wonderful space.


RobinGrantham January 11, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Lovely post about Mr. Mandela, Susan. I don’t know as much about him as I should.

I started to write about loss this week, too, but had to stop. I don’t know, some things are so profound in your life that you’re almost afraid to disturb them in any way. Like maybe it will change something or make you lose something you won’t be able to get back. It’s made me sappy all week, for instance, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Sappy is like spandex: it doesn’t wear well on me. I mean, it doesn’t feel right when I put it on. There, I will join you in the “because I can” preposition ending to this week. It did feel good. Thanks.


aimeepalooza January 11, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Susan, I liked this a lot. While I was losing my Grandmother I kept thinking, “I have to be learning something from this.” Because at the time, all I felt was pain. And I wanted to believe that even during the worst of it, there was going to be a positive note. I have found a few positives. I’m just waiting for the rest to become clear. But, the thing that keeps me smiling is in this universe, I have something to learn from my loss.
I’m no Nelson, but I like his philosophy. Without sounding cheesy and moralistic, there is no sense in going through life focusing on everything that is bad.
And you have perfect timing here because I was about to start writing about my Grandmother again and this whole thing certainly helps!


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

I know what you mean about not wanting to disturb some things.

I also know what you mean about Spandex.


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Aww, thank you, Shannon.


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 2:18 pm

I heard you weren’t the only one having trouble with the screen freezing, so I have my amazing, O. Henry Award-winning webmaster, Terry Bain, right on the trouble.

(Thanks for not giving up, Aurelio!)


aimeepalooza January 11, 2008 at 2:19 pm

I struggle to write about the loss of my Grandmother because it is too emotional and then there’s just the fear that I won’t do her justice. It’s almost like trying to recreate an amazing painting. You don’t want to because doing a bad job actually does a disservice. That and disturbing the things that are so profound can be disturbing.


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Let me make it a little easier for those of us who don’t know this man to learn something:


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Let us know when you have something for us to read! You can link it here.


aimeepalooza January 11, 2008 at 2:26 pm

I would love to except that I am horribly afraid of the talent here. I am just a hobby writer with a few things published due to luck.
But maybe, if I did link, I’d be forced to actually work at writing. Step it up a bit and improve. Or maybe get some feedback and learn to write better? Maybe it is a good idea even though I feel like Piglet around all of the amazing writers here.


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 2:34 pm

But Piglet is my favorite!


RobinGrantham January 11, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Exactly, Aimee, especially about the fear of not doing it justice. Some things do seem beyond mere words. Like how a deeply religious person might feel having to catalogue the Bible in the library like all the other books. Something like that….I’m sorry about your grandmother.


RobinGrantham January 11, 2008 at 3:24 pm

That made me laugh.


patry francis January 11, 2008 at 5:03 pm

When I read Mandela’s autobiography, it was like having a rare and exalted guest in my living room. I never wanted it to end. Thanks for this reminder that there’s always another way–and when people choose it, they lift us all up for generations to come. A beautiful piece, Sue.


Bev from David Habbin Fan Page January 11, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Hi Susan

Thanks again for the interview. Wonderful that you took your children on that journey. Sometimes I think childhood memories resonant louder than our adult ones.

I wrote something for the competiton- just because it had made me think about the death of my Mum and her Alzheimers years ago. The experience was very cathartic and reminded me how much I loved her.
The hard part was trimming down to the word limit.



SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Isn’t he wonderful? And you, too. xoxo


SusanHenderson January 11, 2008 at 8:00 pm

My older son was very moved by that trip because he saw his dad cry for only the second time (the first being when our dog died). My younger son was hungry the whole time; we’ll see how much meaning sunk in.

Good luck with the contest, Bev! If you’re comfortable with it, you’re certainly welcome to post your story here so we can read about your mum.


lance_reynald January 11, 2008 at 11:23 pm

ok. confession time….
having met several spiritual and temporal leaders in the weirdly political stratosphere growing up; I have to say that Mandela is the one I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting…Yet.

but, I’ve always thought that he must carry with him something not matched in royals, pontiffs, diplomats or lamas…

a secular spiritual vibe?

so, you and me might once again have the same hero there wondertwin…

good week in the park, can’t wait to see how things go next week.



SusanHenderson January 13, 2008 at 9:52 am

Next week is going to rock, and I know why – because it’s your week at the park.

Little Hendersons did a Who Tribute concert last night and have another tonight. Was lots of fun!

(P.S. to Daisuke – Got everything – looks GREAT – will be in touch Monday.)


charlotte January 14, 2008 at 5:42 am

Mandela is indeed a hero! His ability to forgive the apartheid government was an inspiration to us all.

(I found your blog via Buzz, Balls and Hype, BTW, and am enjoying browing though it.)


SusanHenderson January 15, 2008 at 7:35 pm

Welcome, Charlotte!


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