There is a Buddhist meditation that says, “Just like everyone else, all that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will change, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.” The mantra is intended to help prepare us for loss, and for our death.
I remember first becoming aware of loss when I realized as a youngster that Tippy, our dog, wasn’t to be seen.
“Where’s Tippy?” I anxiously asked my mom. “We took him to a farm where he’ll be happy,” she said. How many children were told the same story about their dogs being taken to the same farm?
Then came the truth about Santa. “Are you saying there’s no Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy?” Those felt like huge losses for me. I write this being fully aware that many children my age experienced far more excruciating losses, such as that of innocence, health, home, and parents. I had a very privileged childhood.
The most difficult loss, initially, was moving away from neighborhood friends. That was followed by the death of my youngest sister. “Why do things have to change?”
We moved again when I was going into the eighth grade, which felt like a catastrophic loss of friendships, not to mention magical spaces that I had created for myself. This life lesson of letting go caused fear and tears. And yet, for every loss there was gain, such as new pets, new friends, new magical places. However, it’s hard not to wish you could keep everything together, both the lost and the gained. That is particularly true for me when it comes to friends.
The most difficult part of going through our photo albums is to see pictures of people who are no longer friends. It’s sadder for me than seeing the faces of beloved people who have died. With the estranged friends, there’s always the unanswered question of, “What happened? Why the loss?”
Since we first got together 44 years ago, Ray and I have been taking photos of our lives with family and friends, and Ray has patiently assembled them chronologically. They fill 43, leather-bound albums, all of which we’re donating to the Cornell University Human Sexuality Archive. I’ve been annotating each one so that a researcher 100 years from now will understand the setting, and the characters. They will notice the appearance of people who occupy many pages of photos, and who then disappear.
How is it possible that a soul who once totally occupied your heart and mind could now not only be out of your life, but also someone you couldn’t comfortably run into? I have some extraordinary lifelong friends. I feel really fortunate in that regard. But why do friendships have to end? Why does all that is beloved change, become separated from me? Because that is the way of life, and those are the rules.
Trying to cling to that which has changed only causes suffering. That’s true not for just friendships, but also careers, traditions, physiques, beauty, importance, and influence, among endless other aspects of being human.
Once you witness and accept the inevitability of change and loss, and see it not as a personal failure, but rather as an opportunity to grow and shine, then everything makes sense. It’s a sign of maturity and wisdom when you understand that the death of that which is beloved and pleasing is the price of loving, and of growth. It is part of the plan, a part that must be played, and best played with grace and gratitude.
Acceptance for loss with grace is the ticket to awareness. It’s also what’s necessary in order to experience new sources of increased joy. The ability to be completely comfortable in the person you’ve become, to see your connection to all of humanity, and of life, to experience yourself living in abundance when the world sees you as poor, requires embracing loss as a means to an end. Even letting go with gratitude of your beloved is part of meeting your own death with peace, and anticipation.
“Just like everyone else, all that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will change, will become otherwise, will be separated from me.”
We say these words over and over again to minimize the sadness, anger, and depression that can overwhelm us if we’re not prepared to accept the contract of living, and the end of our human lives.
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training."