robben island

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!