We have it on good Biblical authority that Humanity’s whole story started with having Paradise, and then losing it. Of course, nobody ever died in Paradise – but since then, everybody has.
One of my favorite poets is A.E. Housman. And I particularly like this four-line epitaph he wrote, honoring some of the British volunteers who died in the first weeks of World War I:
“Here dead we lie, because we did not choose
To shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is – and we were young.”
You may or may not agree that life is nothing much to lose, but many of us spend much of our lives – especially towards the end – losing things – friends, family, partners, pets – to say nothing of material possessions. It’s one of the jobs of Psychiatrists to help people cope with these losses – a depressing task in itself – which may, at least in part, account for their own high suicide rate. Then, of course, there are the Clergy, who are similarly challenged – but instead of prescribing drugs, they prescribe faith, which involves both hope and acceptance. Sadly, it appears that their suicide statistics are also on the rise.
The best medicine of all – as Reader’s Digest has long reminded us – may be Laughter – to which I would add, Cheerful Songs. One of the many old British music-hall favorites, which I learned from my father, says in part:
“When you die, just bear in mind
All your money you must leave behind—
Finish up just the same as you began, without the slightest doubt –
We all came into the world with nothing—
and we can’t take anything out.”
But of course, there are many other kinds of losses which you may or may not have to confront, before you lose your life. You can lose your mind, your sight, your hearing, even your looks (which latter inspired me to write: “She became a lawyer, and lost her appeal”). You can lose a game, a race, a war, or your rights. You can lose your way, lose control, or lose interest. A comedian can “lose” his audience, even though they’re still sitting there.
But those are all metaphors. What about real things that you can really lose – your keys, your hat, your cane, your wallet, your phone, your false teeth. Most establishments of any size, where many people come and go, maintain a “Lost and Found” facility of some kind, even if it’s only a big box.
Which reminds me that one of the funniest parts of Oscar Wilde’s hilarious comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, has to do with being lost and found. Jack, who wants to marry Gwendolyn, has to deal with her mother, Lady Bracknell, who naturally asks Jack about his parents. He tells her that “I have lost both my parents.” Her response is: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
It turns out that Jack himself, as an infant, was, according to his own account, lost, and then found, by strangers – in a handbag, at Victoria Station. In the face of this shocking news, he is advised by Lady Bracknell, if he now wishes to pursue his suit, to find at least one parent.
But, quite apart from such spoofs, the very word and concept of being “lost” carries intriguing, romantic, and melancholy connotations. Many fairy tales, such as the “Babes in the Wood,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and “The Pied Piper” concern children becoming lost, and sometimes never found again. Then there are legends of mysteriously disappeared parts of the Earth, such as the “Lost Continent of Atlantis,” or any number of lost gold mines or other treasures.
In military history, we have the three “Lost Legions” of Rome – a devastating defeat by Germanic tribes in the year 9 A.D., which decided that Germany would never be a part of the Roman Empire.
There was also an American “Lost Battalion” in the last days of World War I, an episode in which the descendants of those ancient Germans almost succeeded in wiping out a large contingent of recently-arrived U.S. troops, of whom only a minority managed to be rescued.
We’ve come a long way from that lost Eden, where we began – but, let me say that I’m always glad to be found here – by you.