It’s been a long time since I wrote down so many passages from a book, underlined so aggressively, nodded and shared quotes and blinked away tears. Thank you Brettne for suggesting that I read Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz. I have never read a book that captures as precisely and articulately what the experience of mourning a larger-than-life father was. The book is structured in three parts: “lost,” which talks about the death of her father, “found,” which talks about her finding love shortly before her father’s death, and “and,” which talks about how both losing and finding animate the rest of her life. I loved all three parts, but the first and last most. The first section moved me often to tears, as Schulz put words around what my experience was like in the weeks, months, and years after Dad’s death.
The last section did what great literature does for me: made me feel less alone in the world. Schulz describes the interplay between grief and gratitude that defines my every single day, and argues compellingly that awareness of each augments and enriches the other. I could not believe this more. In so many ways Dad’s death made me a more deeply feeling and more keenly aware person, more attuned to life’s beauty and pain, both.
Lately I have found this everyday remarkableness almost overwhelming. As I said, I’ve never been much for stoicism, but these last few years, I have been even more susceptible than usual to emotion—or, rather, to one emotion in particular. As far as I know, it has no name in our language, although it is close to what the Portuguese call saudade and the Japanese call mono no aware. It is the feeling of registering, on the basis of some slight exposure, our existential condition: how lovely life is, and how fragile, and how fleeting. Although this feeling is partly a response to our place in the universe, it is not quite the same as awe, because it has too much of the everyday in it, and too much sorrow, too. For the same reason, it is also not the feeling the Romantics identified as the sublime—a mingling of admiration and dread, evoked by the vast impersonal grandeur of the physical world. This feeling I am talking about has none of that splendor or terror in it. It is made up, instead, of gratitude, longing, and a note I can only call anticipatory grief. Among English words, its nearest kin might be “bittersweet.”