Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Losing Things

Before moving from Denver to Nimule Sarah and I got rid of a lot of our possessions. Our furniture, our dishes...our cat. Sarah, who used to own a women's clothing boutique, liquidated her wardrobe. I learned from the experience of watching item after item go out our front door, never to return, that as much as I'd like to believe I'm not materialistic, I had formed an attachment to an awful lot of material things, and I didn't realize it until I was watching them all go away.

But then we squeezed what was left into a few pieces of luggage and came here, and I thought, 'At least that's over. What else could we possibly give up?' but I found that I became very possessive of what few things we did have, constantly locking drawers and keeping an eye on the door to our house if it was ajar; then I found that it didn't matter. We began losing things - an iPod, a knife, other assorted knick knacks. Mostly they were things that were pretty inconsequential, but to me the knowledge that it didn't matter how much we gave up because we could still lose more was at once disheartening and liberating...but mostly disheartening. It was a constant reminder of the loss of so many small conveniences. When you lose a (fill in the blank with just about any noun) in Sudan, you can't very well just replace it.

There were certain big things I was determined not to lose or let walk away - chiefly my computer, my kindle, and my jeans. The past tense isn't appropriate here, because I'm still bound and determined not to lose those particular things.

Before long, though, I stopped caring about losing little things, accepted it as part of life, and figured we could just adapt and carry on.

And then I lost my wedding ring, and somehow I was caught off guard by just how greatly it affencted me. I saw my naked hand and knew simultaneously both that the ring was gone and that this kind of gone was the permanent kind. I turned into a whimpering child, a deflated balloon. Orphaned children saw me and took pity (they even organized to walk the path where I seemed to have lost it and scour our house from top to bottom in search of it. When that came to nothing, they began trying to form bits of whatever they could find into a suitable ring for me, again to no avail because I have fingers far too fat for a Sudanese child to conceive of).

My wedding ring is basically a $40 hunk of metal, but unlike every other possession I've ever had - whose true value only became apparent to me when the object was no longer mind - that ring was symbolic of something. It meant something to me; unlike other possessions which often construct our identities, my wedding ring always reminded me of my identity. It had a weight to it that I actually had to adjust to when I first started to wear it. It required me to adapt in the most basic and mundane human behaviors, like clapping my hands or drumming on a table out of boredom. The ring did not itself bind me to Sarah, but it was the most visible reminder of that bond.

It has been four days since I lost my ring, and I still find my thumb gravitating to the base of my ring finger seeking the shape of it. I walk the path where I lost the ring at least five times a day, and every time I find my eyes scanning the ground alongside it searching for what I know I won't find, reminding myself that the rain has probably washed it away or a goat has eaten it but still failing to convince myself to stop looking.

It's just another object, I know, but losing something that costs so little but means so much leaves me feeling so vulnerable and powerless. I begin to imagine losing not the object but the person, my worst fears playing themselves out in my mind, and before long I'm thinking, 'why on earth did we come here again?'

But in our marriage vows, Sarah said to me, "I vow to choose the opportunity to do something great over our convenience and comfort." I remember standing with her at the altar, listening to those words, and thinking, 'this is absolutely the woman I want to spend my life with.'

And our life right now is frenzied, unpredictable, exhausting, and stressful. And our marriage is regularly strained, and we often feel the acute loneliness of being so visibly different in a culture that tends to encourage conformity. And I think sometimes we probably ask ourselves if this is the kind of opportunity that we were looking for. And it's funny the things that confirm that it is: letting a seven-year-old girl fall asleep in your lap when she's sick, helping an eight-year-old boy pick out his clothes for the day, watching a ten-year-old who has never experienced rain gutters before dance under the gutter spout during a downpour, explaining the concept of parallel lines to a twelve-year-old, sitting on the veranda with a group of teenage girls who want us to sit and listen to their laughter and their songs (and eventually want us to sing songs of our own to each other, and we oblige).

There are moments when the loneliness arises from the fact that there are so many people we love with whom we want to share in these unique moments.

But for now it's the two of us, and in some sense it will always be just the two of us. Ring or no ring. 


  1. Seth, I am so sorry about the loss of your precious wedding ring and all that means. Praying for you as you are moving deeper into the realities of living in Sudan that you will continue to experience God's grace and sufficiency in the midst of it all.

  2. So sorry about the ring. :( You are a wonderful writer and I'm inspired by your choices to live courageously and do something great. In the midst of it all, I hope you guys can get a little rest soon.