We must endure many losses in life, some trivial and some grave. Here is my top ten loss list in order of importance.
1) The missing sock: We’ve all experienced the sock mystery on a weekly basis. No matter how careful, you will often experience the dumbfounding loss of a missing sock. You may have left it in the washing machine or in the dryer, but sometimes even a search throughout each appliance will not produce a find. This can be mildly upsetting, but this is merely the easiest of the losses we must be prepared to face.
2) Loss of face: Last night we were walking into the parking lot dining area of a popular restaurant in Garden City and as I sauntered in with shoulders back and head held high, I tripped and stumbled over one of those nasty umbrellas stands. The other diners all seemed startled and compassionate in their response to this trip up, but for the remainder of the dinner I felt embarrassed. This is what they call “loss of face.”
3) Loss of the Holy Grail. This little ditty has been written about for centuries and is a central motif in the Arthurian literature. The Holy Grail is described as a cup, a plate or a stone and is said to hold miraculous power to give eternal youth to its possessor. I once went to see the “fountain of youth” in St. Augustine, Fla., but it didn’t do much for me at all.
4) Proust’s novel “In Search of Lost Time”: Marcel Proust spent a good part of the first 100 pages in this novel describing his memories of the natural beauty seen on his childhood walks along Meseglise way and Guermantes way near his country home in Combray, France. He also described his long-lost memories of the smell of those Madeleine cookies he shared with his aunt on Sunday mornings. We can all relate to the sweetness of childhood with its ease, its abundance of time and its lack of worry. Such were the joys.
5) The lost goldfinch: The amazing film “The Goldfinch” concerns the loss of the masterpiece painting of the same name by Carel Fabritus (1654) starring Ansel Elgort, Jeffrey Wright and Nicole Kidman. It’s a story of the loss of the little masterpiece, measuring only 9 inches by 13 inches, and set in modern New York City. The film is based upon the best-selling book of the same name and the story served as a metaphor for just how precious and temporary time itself is. If you love art or beauty or great acting, this is a film to see, but have some tissues nearby.
6) Lucian Freud’s “Portrait of Francis Bacon”: This is another story of loss and occurred when Lucian Freud had a major retrospective of his work at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. This tiny 5 inch by 8 inch portrait of Francis Bacon’s anguished and exhausted face was stolen from the show and never to be seen again.
7) Jasper Johns’ painting entitled “Regrets”: This tragic looking and mysterious painting by Johns is based upon a rumpled and damaged photo of Lucian Freud sitting on his bed with head in hand and slumped shoulders, apparently in abject despair. The photo was by John Deakin and owned by Francis Bacon so what we have here is a painting which references three of the greatest painters of the 20th century all dealing with the subject of loss and despair. If you want to see this piece up close and personal, it’s on display at the Whitney’s major retrospective of Jasper Johns’ work.
8) The last scene in Balanchine’s ballet “Serenade”: The haunting final scene in Balanchine’s beloved masterwork “Serenade” is the image of a woman held aloft in a backward arch like a regal queen taking her ship up to heaven. This image may be the most powerful balletic moment ever created and is once aAgain a scene of both terrible loss coupled with astounding beauty.
9) The last section of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” is one of the pre-eminent works in Italian literature and is best known for the nine circles of hell. However, the last section is entitled “Paradise” and it describes the way Beatrice, Dante’s long lost childhood love interest, leads him up to God. It was always notable to me that even here in one of the world’s great works of literature, Dante is escorted in his ascent to heavenly paradise by the woman he could never have.
10) Loss of life: Regrettably, life is a finite and a limited affair and so by its very nature, the gains and the memories we obtain by being alive will all be lost in time. Like the final scene in “Blade Runner” where the cyborg Roy Batty utters the famous soliloquy “ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. An attack ship on fire off the shoulder of Orien. I’ve watched sea beams glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.” With that his short life ended and he bowed his head and passed on.
All these stories of loss, written by the greatest writers and performed by our greatest actors, are messages instructing us to wake up and live a life of joy and adventure before it’s too late. They are the artist’s gift that is telling us to go find beauty and meditate on it for a while.
Loss is inevitable, just like that lost sock that seems to get away. Endings will surely come to us all. What these masterworks are saying is to open your eyes and go find yourself some fun on that bucket list you have been thinking about before you lose your other sock. All good things come to an end. Time is always running out, so make sure that before the end you can be like Roy Batty and have a smile on your face as you pass on to the great hereafter.