Losing Something You Can’t Recover

My student bursts into the classroom. “I’ve lost my paper!  I didn’t save it properly and the whole thing is gone!”  The exasperation in this student’s face is one I’ve seen many times before. 

My student can’t get that paper back.  He stands in front of me, small and hopeless.  I’ve been there.  I remember the first time it happened to me.  I remember the discouragement, the anger, the desperation, and the embarrassment of it all when I forgot to save a term paper.  

It’s not fair; it’s not right.  But I told myself I had to move beyond what’s fair or right.  I had to move beyond the anger and the shame.

I had to start again.  

Students tell me that what they produce after the loss turns out stronger, more authentic, and more concise than the original paper.  They build on the memory of what they once wrote and make something better.  It’s not easy, and it never seems fair.   Losing stuff is like that.  I’m learning to take a loss and build on it somehow to create a marvelous new thing. 

Otherwise, I get stuck in the anger.  

This won’t be the last time we lose something that can’t be recovered.  But beauty does arise from the ashes.  I see it every semester with every lost paper.  I see it in my own life with every thing I’ve ever lost.  There’s a way to start again on the fresh page, remember what you had, and press your fingers down on the keys.  You start letter by letter, word by word.  Soon, you’re not just back where you started.  You’re beyond in a beautiful far country that you never imagined existed.  And the loss got you there.

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  1. That happened to me once–I lost a blog post I'd been working on, and I really didn't feel that I had time to start over.

    But it came back. I don't know if it turned out stronger, but at least I didn't actually start from scratch.

    Maybe our internal editor takes advantage of that time to slice off what wasn't working, and what we remember is what *did* work? Maybe that's how we end up with stronger recreated pieces?

  2. I love the concept of the “internal editor!” We probably do remember only what “did” work. I read that good writing is MEMORABLE. That's why it turns out stronger! Thank you for reminding us!

  3. I love the concept of the “internal editor!” We probably do remember only what “did” work. I read that good writing is MEMORABLE. That's why it turns out stronger! Thank you for reminding us!

  4. Our Writing Center tells the story of an author who writes a book, hits delete, then starts over as a matter of course. Sounds painful, but I understand how it works. You learn so much from the process of writing that first draft! – Heidi

  5. I've noticed this as well. In my case I think I do better when I completely start over because I'm not trying to desperately hang onto certain parts that I think are too good to take out (but are actually not fitting very well).

    It can be very freeing in those circumstances to deliberately re-start.

  6. You are so right. I even take post that I was writing once, but never posted them. Rewrite them and I am amazed how much better they are. Very glad I never posted them the first time.
    When anything is lost or happens we always have to find the positive side of the lost.

  7. Thank you for this. As I adjust to this new normal after having lost my mother this week, it is heartening to be able to imagine a stronger me in the future.

  8. I remember that very experience when I was an undergrad English student–losing a paper to a computer glitch. And in the rewriting it WAS better.

    I am new to your blog but am already enjoying it! Thanks!