Life is Loss: We are Our Deficits

As we continue to mourn the death of Dr. Howard Stein, we are left to ponder the joy of knowing him and, in missing him, we begin the healing process by remembering the important lessons he taught us.

One of the most poignant conversations I had with him in the last few weeks of his life dealt with age and growing older.  Howard reversed an important expectation for me, and I appreciate the reality of that sobering.

As we discussed the merits of “geezerdom” and wisdom, Howard warned me that life was not about getting things.  It was about letting things go.  Howard told me, “life is loss, and you’d better start getting used to it.”

He went on to explain that, early in life, we are focused on getting things:  Earning an education; making a living; accumulating wealth — but, in the end, Howard argued — life is really only about coming to terms with the inescapable reality of grief and loss.

Loss and grief will take up more days of your life than happiness and contentment, Howard said, because we rarely expect loss and grief and pain and longing to be a part of our common days.  We are more defined by our deficits, and how we cope with them, than we ever are by our accomplishments.

While some may think that philosophy is morose or anti-living, I find tremendous value in the hard-won wisdom of that argument.  Happiness is overrated.  Duty must always be our Moral Imperative.  Mediocrity still knows nothing.  We must forever be our passionate minds and intellectual hearts.

If we come to anticipate and embrace our losses — our friends and family, our bodily abilities, our memories — then the small fortunes of joy we are able to pry between the tears and the sadness can begin to uplift us into a more human being.  We actually only exist to feel and to grieve and to recognize what was once won can never be retrieved.  Did we ever have our youth, or did we only think we’d just be dead by the age of 35?

As we cope with the loss of Howard Stein’s immeasurable energy in the universe — we are all troubled to try to somehow become better people in an attempt to fill the void he leaves behind — but we are all also humbly reminded that Howard was always so much smarter than us, and keener than us, and more energetic than us, and more loving than us, and we accept that we must find some solace in a world that will never be the same without him and, therefore, we are required by his life to resign our infinite loss as the mark of living in human deficits.

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