My family and I are headed to our Alaskan fish camp this month, where we commercial fish for salmon every summer. This time last year, I was happily stripping out the season's first king salmon to put in our new smoker. When I was done, I set the white bowl piled high with carmine flesh on the counter, then called my two youngest sons, ages 8 and 10, to dump the carcass over the far cliff, where all our organics go.
A few minutes later they handed me the bowl, now empty, and turned back to their play.
"Thank you," I said unthinkingly. As I stood there with the bowl in my hand, I realized something was wrong. "Boys!" I shouted. "Did you just dump all the salmon over the cliff?"
They came running, looking up at me with innocent eyes.
I pointed to the carcass still in the box on the floor.
"Ohhhhh." Their eyes went wide, their faces burned pink.
I calmed down—eventually. I've lost a lot of things out there, including all my journals and my wedding ring, which went down one year on a sinking fishing boat.
In such times, I can't help thinking of the poet Elizabeth Bishop's famous villanelle, "The Art of Losing": The art of losing isn't hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster."
But often losses are disaster. I frequently run into people who are losing and throwing away treasures far more precious than salmon and journals. A lifelong friend who grew up in a Christian home and went to Christian colleges wrote recently to tell me he no longer believed Jesus was the only way to God. Yesterday, I talked with a woman whose son had found faith in high school, but who now believed in kung fu instead. In Costa Rica, I met two young men, missionary kids, who had both abandoned ...