I begin on a grey Tuesday in February. Fifty-eight-years-old. My two-year-old daughter sleeps in her room nearby, my twenty-one-year-old son, who lives with his mother, is working at the grocery store a few miles down the road, and my wife is teaching at the University not far from that grocery store.
My world is small. The television, my view over the horizon, tells me that Mitt Romney now has a problem because he has lost a few states in the Republican primary that he was expected to win. If the actuarial life-tables speak the truth, I will not see as much of my daughter’s life as I would like to see. Or as much of it as a younger father might expect to see. And I could make a similar prediction about my wife. We will not grow old together because she is a good deal younger than I am. I am very sad about this. And looking at Romney, I see that he looks sad too, although for very different reasons.
Both of us, however, are sad about the prospect of loss.
Loss is the most vexing problem that we face. It has enormous range because it doesn’t care about the normal boundaries that most of our problems respect. Loss shows itself largely in our fears, and the fears that it generates run the gamut from the literal to the metaphysical—we fear losing our place in line at the grocery store when we realize we’ve forgotten the butter, but we also fear the end of life and the loss of everything that has characterized that life.
I used to think that these fears have nothing in common. I could get over my fear or anxiety, really, of having to wait a few more minutes in the grocery store because I understand what lies on the other side of more waiting: frustration, impatience, anger, or no butter . . . All these things I can understand and dismiss.
But end of life? What lies on the other side of that?
I don’t know.