Quiet reflections on the tidal wave
Book: Lost & Found: A Memoir
Author: Kathryn Schulz
In his essay, “Our Attitude Towards Death”, Sigmund Freud attributes “our current state of estrangement from our world” to a dishonest attitude towards death. Death — that of her father’s — brings estrangement to Kathryn Schulz too, but Lost & Found is a testament to her ability to examine the nuances of loss, grief and recovery — if there is such a word in this context — with an honest, unflinching eye.
Schulz — a Pulitzer winner — is gifted with a prose that leaves its mark with the lightest of touches. It is the radiance of her language that renders even her etymological explorations of loss tender. “The verb ‘to lose’,” she writes, “has its taproot sunk in sorrow; it is related to the ‘lorn’ in ‘forlorn.’ It comes from an Old English word meaning to perish…”
This incandescence is not a technique of embellishment. There is, in fact, no need for cosmetic varnishing because Schulz’s narrative cadence is matched by the depth of her philosophical interrogation of grief and its attendant rituals. She seems to concur with Freud’s scrutiny of modernity’s predisposition towards protecting itself from death’s inevitability and harshness: Schulz refers to a wealth of myth and literature that testify to the human inclination to conjure a twilight realm of lost souls.
Where Schulz is most effective, devastatingly so, is in her ability to flesh out words to convey those experiences peculiar to bereavement which, usually, defy language. “I can remember whole days when sorrow pooled around me… And I can remember… days when a more dire form… would overtake me — the thing I thought grief would always be like, a tidal wave roaring up to swamp me… But neither one, the pool or the wave, were regular components of my grief.”
“Loss may alter our sense of scale,” writes Schulz, “reminding us that the world is overwhelmingly large while we are incredibly tiny. But finding does the same; the only difference is that it makes us marvel rather than despair.” It is a pity that when Schulz, much to her surprise, finds someone, it disturbs the fine balance between losing and finding. The joy of this companionship, although perfectly human and relatable, seems to blunt the sharpness of her enquiry subsequently.
It is possible that readers would relate to Schulz’s deliberations on grief more than those on joy or life’s ability to compensate losing with finding. This may well be because grieving “is a lonely, threadbare knowledge” that Schulz has, unlike most of us, had the courage and the kindness to share.