Living beyond loss – The Korea Times

By Bernard Rowan

This world glorifies winning, victory, prevailing and success. Many disdain talk of anything but the positive. To discuss losing, suffering defeat, and the lack of success is dour for the pedestrian. “I’m on the side of a winner!”, “I’m a winner,” and “Think like a winner” all intone today’s mantras. It’s fine that positivity means thinking positively. All should take stock of the good things in life, as well as dreams and hopes. This column concerns remaining positive in the face of loss — living beyond loss. Whether the optimists admit it, no life occurs without loss.

These days, one reads about lost lives, lost loved ones, and of course, the many who die in distant or local wars, conflicts, shootings, and the like, depending on where we find ourselves. There are also new lives and lives saved through various actions, as well as new experiences, new beginnings, and new opportunities. There are more ordinary and extraordinary losses of all types in our world.

I recently accepted a loss, the loss of a hoped-for possibility. I found it sad and hard. I thought of those I love. I thought of my parents and family, and I thought of my family members now departed. I also thought of my God. To accept loss requires remembering that we’re not alone. In our loss, as individuals, living beyond it requires recalling those we love. They’d say, “Remember I love you. Don’t give up. Keep going. Many people depend on you.” I think cultivating an inner voice is important for accepting and living beyond loss.

Whatever one has lost, it likely isn’t irreplaceable. If one seeks a possibility, then it’s important to consider other avenues. Very often, what one loses returns to us, when we least expect it. A door that closes opens another door – or two! In this sense, to live beyond a loss requires each of us to give over or to “let go” of the possibility that is no more. Holding on to something can leave one with resentment, anger, sadness, bitterness, and all manner of unhappy feelings and states of living. If indeed what one sought as a possibility doesn’t occur, it needn’t mean the end of a dream or goal or purpose. Not letting go keeps me from moving on.

In the same vein, it’s important to learn from a loss, to see what better succeeds for the next possibility. Learning from the lack of success is humble pie at times. Not looking and understanding means accepting unnecessary ignorance and repeating the same actions, thoughts and words that are perhaps in the background of a lost possibility.

However, a loss may have absolutely nothing to do with what one does or doesn’t think, say, or do. Very often, a possibility rests with others who will decide the way they do, and the possibility couldn’t come to pass. Many of us are attached to heroic self-conceptions. Heroism isn’t normal, and even heroes and heroines don’t always or invariably succeed. A possibility can in fact be impossible according to the circumstances. There is much in life that is out of our control. And that is okay.

Living beyond a loss may also require that we take new steps, charter new directions or perhaps leave a route that should no longer be traveled. As Alasdair McIntyre wrote in “After Virtue,” life is a quest, a narrative existence embedded in many other narratives of individuals, groups, societies, organizations, nations, and realities. No one is an island, as John Donne said in his “Devotions.” That means one shouldn’t make the mistake of living in any one possibility as a silo. Life is one of perennial and ever-renewing possibilities if we let it be. This means addressing loss may require us to change and chart a new or different direction.

I say give oneself a break to live beyond loss. Don’t break faith, howsoever one defines it. Keep your chin up and move forward. Chances are the next possibility may be yours to realize, one possibility at a time. There is no other way, and that’s okay too. I write to you in peace.

Bernard Rowan ( is associate provost for contract administration and academic services and professor of political science at Chicago State University. He is a past fellow of the Korea Foundation and former visiting professor at Hanyang University.

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