Daniel Crough is a writer, a storyteller, a technology leader, a yogi and a humble traveller on the spiritual path. When he’s not building websites or strategizing for businesses of all sizes, you can find him in nature or writing in his home by the beach in Kitsilano.
The Lost Things
I was in India on a train with some new friends. We had just met a couple traveling with two children and coincidentally, we were all headed to the same ashram. They were a beautiful young family and they all shared the same bright blue eyes that sparkled with light. The older girl had a small stuffed bunny with her that was clearly well loved: it was worn and tattered in a way that only a cherished item could be. The father told me that the bunny was given to her when she was a newborn.
We all shared cookies and drank chai and watched the tropical scenery roll by from the hard wooden benches of 3rd class. The sun warmed my face while I watched the smog of Mumbai fade away. I remember feeling welcomed and accepted by India in that moment. No one was trying to hustle me for money, no one was staring at me or asking me inappropriate questions. We were all just humans on a train together and it was a beautiful moment that I will never forget.
One of my new friends Chile (a nickname based on his country of origin) was playing joyfully with the older girl. I remember Chile as a kind hearted man. Tall, handsome with a slight build and a fashionable mullet of shiny and beautiful black curls. In my memories, Chile’s nature is warm, loving and a bit mischievous. He wasn’t the type to cast aspersions: he spoke kindly and carefully and laughed a lot. Chile dangled the older girl’s stuffed bunny near the window playfully, pretending to drop it. The little girl shrieked with a mix of terror and delight. She trusted that this nice man wouldn’t actually drop her beloved toy out the window. And then he did.
The speed of the train conspired with the wind from outside to suck the tattered stuffed bunny from Chile’s hands into the sticky South Indian summer air. We all thought it was a trick. Some sort of Chilean parlour magic or South American sleight of hand. We waited for Chile’s face to transform from whitened and sick with regret and shame back to the joyous and smiley one he usually wore. I’ll never forget the girl’s face when she realized that it wasn’t a trick. She went from disbelief, to rage, to despair within the span of a few seconds. It was all of the stages of grief cycling so rapidly that they were nearly simultaneous.
Many people on the train witnessed this event. The mood shifted. It was like a cold cloud of remorse covering the joyous warmth of the sun. This picturesque moment of peace between strangers had transformed to a memorial service for the little girl’s bunny that was now somewhere splayed out in an undignified way atop the detritus and human waste that is usually found near train tracks in India. It seemed so unceremonious. So unfair.
At first, the child was inconsolable. It was very clear in the short time that we had all known each other that this bunny meant the world to her. I felt kindred to her in that moment. I too was grieving the loss of something very special to me. I wanted so badly to console her. To tell her that one day this pain would dissipate. That over time, the heart and the spirit would grow accustomed to loss and each time it will hurt a little bit less. That she will get better at processing and intellectualizing her suffering. These words would have been disrespectful to the very human experience she was having. I knew that all I could do was hold space and witness her in her pain.
Her father, bless his heart, deserves a parenting medal of honour for the way he showed up for his daughter in that moment. I remember him holding her tightly and rocking her in his arms. He softly told her that sometimes things have to go away. Sometimes we lose things that are really important to us and it hurts really badly. Her crying went from spastic and violent to slow and hiccupy. Her breathing slowed as her nervous system relaxed. Only when she was ready to hear it did the father share an idea that perhaps the bunny would be found by another child. Perhaps the bunny’s new owner really needed a toy to love. This seemed to help. The child appeared to realize that the bunny wasn’t gone, but was just on a different journey.
Loss and grief are powerful emotions. So is shame. Chile was absolutely sick with himself. He was a different person after that moment. He was uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the day. The next day, he returned to his happy and lovely self, but it was like the volume of his spirit was turned down a few notches. On the outside, it looked like Chile was able to forgive himself quickly, but I wonder if he still thinks about that afternoon on the train to Kerala. Chile parted ways with us shortly after that day.
This memory comes to me whenever I am grieving a loss. My subconscious or my spirit or my emotional body… whatever you want to call it… brings it forward to remind me of how to work with grief and the wisdom and growth that exist on the other side of grief’s pain. Here’s what I have learned in my life about grief and how to move through it:
- Let it out. Containing emotions will make you sick. They will find a way out one way or another so best to let them run their course in whatever way feels right.
- Seek shelter in love. Find closeness with your friends, your family or a creature or perhaps your love for yourself. If you can rest in the power of self-love and self-compassion, then you have achieved an emotional superpower.
- Add context and nuance to the loss. This takes time, and can be really hard, but it’s important to challenge the narratives in your mind when dealing with grief. Personally, I tend to blame myself and turn on myself when I’m grieving. It’s really important for me to remember that the Universe is working in its way and I am not to blame when things or people have to go. I must also remember that I am just a small man in a spiderweb of infinite possibilities. It is not my job to know how things will work out and it is unwise to wish for a different reality.
- Remember your goodness and belonging. When I am dealing with loss, I have a tendency to withdraw. When I withdraw, I spend too much time ruminating and I lose the positive habits that keep my body, mind and spirit healthy. If I withdraw for too long, I begin to forget who I am and what makes me special and why people want me in their lives. I must remember my goodness and remember that I am worthy of love and belonging. For me, the best way to do this is to be with others and to practice kindness, love and selfless service.
- Practice your gifts. To create brings joy and connectedness, even if you are creating just for yourself. But I implore of you, please do share your gifts with the world, especially if you think they are not very good. The world would be so much less magical if only the best of the best sang, or danced, or created art. We all need to take the time to share and celebrate each other’s gifts so that we can witness the power of creation that lives in all of us.
Tara Brach shared a passage on her podcast last year that fits well with the lessons of this story. In Margery William’s The Velveteen Rabbit there is an exchange between a stuffed rabbit and a wise toy named the Skin Horse. It reads:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
May we all have the resilience to withstand our hardships and may we all have the courage to let our jagged edges be softened by the pain of grief and loss. May we recognize suffering in each other and provide shelter through compassion and shared accounts of our own humanity. May we all have the wisdom to realize our own goodness and may we never let the actions, thoughts or words of others mean something about us.