Lessons from Lost Earrings

Or, “How I Learned to Let Go”

The flames and smoke climbed out of every window
And disappeared with everything that you held dear
And you shed not a single tear for the things that you didn’t need
‘Cause you knew you were finally free -Death Cab for Cutie Your Heart is an Empty Room

For most of my life, I’ve put stock in things. Possessions. I was afraid to let anything go, because I had attached my memories of its acquisition to it; if I let it go I would also lose the memory it represented. Or sometimes, I just feared that I would regret the loss later. (I used to have this funny pattern where I would give away clothes I hadn’t worn for years, and then, within a short time, I’d plan an outfit that required one of the items I gave away. Of course.)

I’ve been working gradually to get over that instinct, partly because I absolutely hate clutter, and partly because I am tired of living a life ruled by things. I have been dreaming for a long time of a life ruled by experiences.

This past year, I’ve had the same experience twice- the titular lost earrings- and my different reactions each time have been very telling.

The first earring I lost was back in March. It was half of a new pair I had treated myself to for my birthday a couple months previously. They were cute and really, really cheap. I was out running around one day, and when I got home I realized that I only had one of them. I backtracked to the red line and the library, but no sign of it anywhere.

That very day I went back to the shop I bought them from and was relieved to find another pair. I had no sentimental attachment to these earrings, mind you, I just liked them and hated the thought of not getting to wear them anymore.

The second earring I lost was in June. I had just started running again and was being a little compulsive rigid about it. I decided to run home from work one day, not even thinking about the potential for lost jewelry… I had just finished my run when I realized, once again, I only had one earring.

That pair of earrings? My friend made them for my birthday over a decade ago, they were my absolute favorite pair. If you have ever seen me in realspace, odds are good I was wearing them.

I don’t like to use to word devastated, it feels extreme, but I think it’s an accurate description of how I felt. I backtracked all the way to the start of my run, scanning the ground carefully as I went.

Maybe things would have turned out differently if I could have replaced that earring too. There’s a part of me that’s inclined to believe I would have just gone on losing jewelry until I reached this realization:

My attachment to things is directly at odds with my primary value: freedom.

It seems so obvious now, but going through the process of regretting my lost earring and then choosing to see the freedom I gained from the loss was a revelation at the time.

I’m so grateful for those two losses this year. I must be, this post is more like my first novel than a blog post. It’s the truth though; I lost an item that I loved and I mourned it and moved on.

I feel less attached to my stuff now. I see how it’s been holding me back and tying me down. I’m still in Chicago, winter is still coming, but I am a little more free than I was a few months ago.

The earrings in question


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