Living with loss

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The sound of a newspaper being folded is a sweet song to my ears. During my short-term internships in Washington, D.C., years ago, it was revealing to notice how many people using public transportation were engrossed in the morning Post. Years later, during my first professional career, a newspaper vendor would drop copies of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at my desk. The arrival each morning of that thick stack of newsprint was like a brief visit from Santa.

I love general circulation daily newspapers. My wife prefers to read the paper online. For me, the tactile sensation of handling a paper fresh from the newsstand, from the vending machine or from its little blue cellophane wrapper brings fresh anticipation.

Forgive the melodramatic rhapsody of my opening paragraphs. You are reading the last Saturday edition of the Southeast Missourian.

It took me a little while to warm up to this publication after moving south from St. Louis four years ago. For a while, I kept taking the Post-Dispatch, being familiar with the rhythms of its news presentation. But in fairly short order, the switch was made. The Missourian's relentlessly local focus is the secret of its staying power.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be acknowledged that I am essentially a paid stringer for the Missourian. Therefore, my words may resound in your mind like those of a sycophant. With that admission out of the way, there remains a palpable feeling of loss. I'll have to find something else to read with my Saturday coffee. The reasons for the change make sense, yet I'll freely admit I don't like the change.

Here's the bottom line: Loss is perpetual and inevitable. We lose things far more consequential over time than a newspaper one day out of seven. On this side of heaven, we lose friends because estrangement and alienation are much more common than forgiveness and unity. On this side of eternity, we lose loved ones because our physical bodies fail. On this side of the final transition, we progressively lose visual acuity, keen hearing, muscle elasticity and mental function. In the 2009 book "How God Changes Your Brain," the authors assert that as we age, our minds behave like slowly dripping oil pans. It's just the way it is. Living involves loss.

Loss is unavoidable. We can decide, though, to reframe our thinking. We can act like victims of repeated "robberies" or we can take a road less traveled -- the path of gratitude. St. Paul chose the latter course. Listen to this beautiful paraphrase of his words in Philippians 4:12: "I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." (source: The Message)

I don't see as well as I used to, my hearing is worse and I need meds to control hypertension and cholesterol. There's a growing bald spot on the back of my head, and, yes, you and I are losing the Saturday paper. Loss is inevitable, but how we think about it is always a choice. We can focus on being robbed or we can be grateful for what remains. Choose wisely and well, friends.

Look for this column in the Good Times section of future Sunday editions of this publication.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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