The Art Is Not in Forgetting But in Letting Go

Monday, May 12, 2014 - 5:56pm

The Art Is Not in Forgetting But in Letting Go

"Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.

Imagine yourself streaming though time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before.

The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss."

—Rebecca Solnit, from A Field Guide to Getting Lost


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Mariah Helgeson

is a digital editor at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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This is reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "One Art"

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
Helen Keller
(attr also in shorter form to Alex G. Bell)

And what of an electronic net that never forgets anything ever, except under direction of the privileged few?

letting go is such a wonderful expression
everything is in a state of flux of go
often our lives are full of knots
that interfere with where the sap wants to flow
the art then is non-interference
about forgetting - forget it!

The image of the rear-facing seat vs forward facing seat on train is wonderful. Thank you

Has Krista Tippett interviewed Rebecca Solnit? If not, this is a formal request that that happen. Solnit's perspective on so many subjects always demonstrates an amazingly poetic and beautiful way of seeing the world. An interview with her by Ms. Tippett would blow my mind.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Not yet, Angela, but it has been discussed! I'm a huge fan of her work and her thinking, especially her piece on mansplaining in Guernica.