On Loss

Nov 20, 2020

In this most recent passage in world history, many have been touched by loss. A harsh economic climate has had an impact on many of our families. Words such as lockdown and quarantine have entered our daily vocabulary, highlighting the loss of freedom of movement, both here and abroad. In times of crisis, we have lost our ability and our right to travel freely; we are cut off from distant friends and families. During recent school closures, our children faced loss at many levels. Loss of contact, loss of shared activities, and at a deeper level, a loss of certainty. Indeed, right now we are all experientially immersed in a world at a loss, which is all the more troubling when we have been culturally or habitually conditioned to expect success.

A shared human experience, loss has an impact on both the conscious and subconscious, on all aspects of body, mind, and spirit. From the instant we know what it means to ‘have’, we face the potential to ‘have not’. Loss, or the fear of loss, shapes what we know, what we do, and how we feel. Ironically, we sometimes do not appreciate the true value of what we have until it is gone.

We lose the things we have and have to learn to cope with the resulting absence or gap. At ISF, our ‘Lost and Found’ is a living, dynamic testament to the daily, if not hourly phenomenon of loss; children are entrusted with personal items that they lose. A vital part of their education is to take care of what they have. Some are more challenged than others! It is an admirable trait in the human spirit when a victim of misfortune experiences total loss materially and bounces back, determined to recover and rebuild. Such stories are inspiring.

Defeat is a particularly powerful form of loss. We pit our skills, talents, or luck against a foe and fall short. If we fail to win the things we want, we experience a spectrum of emotions, from mild disappointment to crushing capitulation. An essential formative experience in the development for each child is to endure and recover from defeat. In many competitive sports, the most common experience statistically for participants is to ‘not win’. First place is sought by all, but for each ‘victor’, there must be the ‘vanquished’. Winners mean there are losers. Helping the young recover from defeat, build character, and learn from failure to re-engage in life and perhaps succeed at some point in the future is one of the more important duties borne by parents and teachers. The first step for our children is to accept their loss and begin the learning that follows.

Perhaps the hardest loss of all is when we lose significant people in our lives: parents, partners, or pals – those we love or care about – and feel grief at their departure. It may be that a relationship has been sundered by neglect, conflict, or even death. The finality of lost love lives on in our grief; it lingers quietly or strikes suddenly when we are at our most vulnerable; it saddens or debilitates. Our lives are complex networks of social interactions and ties. When key players depart from our lives, we can lose the plot; adrift, alone, without direction or destination, without pilot or companion to share the road. The darkness of such loss is palpable; it is only lightened by the passage of time and the growth of new connections.

Our losses and defeats may be visible and quantifiable, or invisible to the eye and sensed only in the depths of our soul, but to be human is to know loss. Our humanity binds us together in the shared experience of knowing loss.

Some say that the most formidable adversary is someone who has nothing to lose. I prefer the idea that it is only once we have really lost that can truly find ourselves.


Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School