“I understand,” I said to her. “You don’t think the world is fair. You want a different deal, one that considers and honours why your circumstances are special. You want to negotiate changes in the way that the universe works. I get it.
“The problem is that bargaining with me won’t help at all. I have no power to change the way that the world is. If you want changes, you have to get God to agree.
“Why don’t you take your complaints up with her? When she agrees to change the way things are for you, then call me back and I’ll congratulate you. You can tell me how you made God change everything for you.”
“If I try that, you’ll never hear from me again!” she bleated.
Yeah. I recognized her cry as the third stage in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief.
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. She wanted a bargain that avoided her having to engage loss. Such a deal.
I have been living with loss for so long that I don’t even think about the steps anymore. I know how to accept loss quickly, so quickly that people often feel like I don’t try to claim life at all.
I happened to be listening to a biography of Bob Fosse by Sam Wasson this week. If anyone took that line of loss and life into popular art, it was Bob Fosse, in all his works.
The centre of surrender in life is to that which we cannot change, no matter how much we struggle.
The core of what we cannot change in this world is the truth of loss. Everything dies, even our comforting illusions. Holding on to that which is ephemeral and not eternal, well, that is only holding on to loss as the temporal slips away from us.
Time is the great knife, separating that which will endure from that which will pass. Time guarantees loss and demands surrender, which we can only offer by working through our own grief, by mourning our own losses.
The closing years of life are like
the end of a masquerade party,
when the masks are dropped.
— Arthur Schopenauer
We assert our own intentions into the world, struggling to pose as we would like to be, but hour by hour, that façade corrodes away, revealing who we are. We are who we have always been, but more so, which is why we need to be very careful who we pretend to be.
Without dropping our masks, though, authenticity will always escape us. We will always be in the world surrounded by our armour, that slick suit we built which we really want to believe will get us what we desire while leaving our heart unscathed and unscarred.
“But these two were dancers. Pain was negotiable,” Wasson writes of Fosse and Ann Reinking entering the cold while the hospital after his cardiac bypass. The ego wants to help us avoid discomfort, but only by entering the pain can we find the pure, the essential and the excellent.
Dancers may learn that body first while I learned it mind first, pushing through my own emotional swirl to exist in my mother’s world, where everything was about her, to exist in the world of school, where I stood out as the nail to be pounded down, to exist in the wider world, were books were my only way to go where I needed to go. Somehow, the experience of being snuck into my Grandfather’s hospital room when I was underage was just the first training for being in my father’s ICU room as I helped keep him safe as he surrendered his life.
Pushing through loss to find the essential and eternal is at the heart of creation. If we want to create our own life beyond convention, want to own our own authenticity, want to free ourselves, we need to go through the stages, work through our loss, and claim what we find surviving in the ashes.
For Fosse it may have been the extension of a hip, for me one more perfect word, but the process always involves pushing through pain to find essence, allowing the weak to die for the strong to come forward. Pushing past death to shape the remaining shards of our life towards perfection is the only thing we can do to create lasting form in the void.
Rebirth requires death. The cycle of life requires loss to clear the field and make ground for the new. Loss requires grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
No matter how much we feel that the universe is unfair, unreasonable or even cruel, our negotiations with God to avoid loss will never succeed, because the clock cannot be turned back or even stopped.
That’s why we call it the serenity prayer, not the strength payer or the wisdom prayer; we know that surrender is the hard part. “God grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.” The prayer says amen, says that no matter what it does to us, we are blessed to have life and to have passion.
Creating our own best self beyond the natural loss of a human life requires surrender, because our own best self isn’t in our fancies, rather it is in our undeniable and enduring truth. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance are the steps in the dance we need to make to go deeper, to go past conventions to get to uncommon sense.
Slowly waking up from the dream where everything is possible, facing the struggle and doing the mourning is the work we do to own the truth that beyond illusory opposites, beyond loss, love endures.
Now if you can figure out a way to bargain with the universe to find different deal that doesn’t require loss to achieve gain, that doesn’t require death to create life, well, call me after you make the deal, so I can congratulate you and get some tips.
But no, I’m not expecting the call.