I was sitting at my kitchen table and was annoyed when I heard the knock on the door because I was playing a computer game I had nearly won. I opened the front door to find a young woman in an unrecognizable city uniform. She asked me if I was the owner of a cat named Lou. I said I was.
“Lou’s been hit by a car,” she said.
“Is he hurt badly?”
She lowered her head.
We had owned Lou for two years. He was the first and only pet my wife and children and I had ever cared for. My oldest son would often observe, “Lou makes everything better.” We all agreed.
I stood for a moment trying to absorb the news. He was just a cat. But there was a place within me that until then I did not realize Lou occupied. That this place now felt empty, where only a moment before it felt full, made the whole of life seem unbalanced.
An hour later my wife returned home from shopping. She was in a good mood and wanted to tell me a funny story about something her cashier had said. She was living in the world in which Lou had not yet died. I blurted out what had happened without any delicacy because I still felt unbalanced and I wanted her in my world as quickly as possible.
I was 47 years old and had had virtually no experience of death. My parents and siblings and all my close friends – everyone I loved most dearly – were still alive. Except Lou. I knew that the place within me that my wife and children occupied was far larger than that which Lou had occupied, but I understood that this was only a matter of degrees. The next morning my youngest son came to me while I was writing, and said, “Something’s missing.”
There it is, I thought. There is the math of death. If you have a coat and then you lose a coat, you have one less coat. And if you have someone you loved and you lose that someone, so too must you have less of something, and is that something love?
It is a question I cannot answer merely once. It is a question I must answer again and again as I go about my earthly days, buying food, cashing checks, and reading about wars and corruption and drought. It would be several days before I could bring myself to play the game I had been playing when I heard the knock on the door. It would take that long to surrender again to the math of love, which knows only addition and never subtraction. Hard to remember sometimes as we give and take all these things we hold in our hands. Easier to remember when what we give is given out of love.
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This piece speaks volumes regarding the pluses and minuses of life and death. A lost earring is merely a thing that takes no toll on your heart. Even if it was expensive, it’s certainly not a matter of life and death. But a beloved pet, a close friend, a respected teacher, a parent, a child…they all have a place in our hearts and when we lose them, no matter how we lose them, pieces of our hearts are torn away. Hearts do heal, but, you’re right, a body definitely needs someone loved to share in the world of loss. I’m deeply grateful for the friends who now and then entered into my grieving world, held my head and hand and helped me heal a heart torn and sometimes even shattered. Bless them.
I’m glad this piece spoke to you, Jan, and that it reminded you of losses, both large and small. And see how when you perceive a wound, yet more love, in the form of those other friends, comes to fill it. This is the math of love.