The Beauty of Missing

There is an assumption that if you experience the feeling of missing, something went wrong, that a mistake was made, or that things should be different. This fear of missing keeps us from letting go of something, particularly personal or sentimental items. It keeps us so fixated on the possibility of regret that we miss an opportunity to let go. We miss a chance to move toward simplicity because we’ll go to great lengths to avoid the experience of missing.

I recall chatting with my mom after my parents downsized from my childhood suburban home to a 2-bedroom condo in a retirement community. She parted with countless decades of things in the downsizing process. Knowing that many of her memories were wrapped into the material world, I asked if she missed anything. I was surprised that it wasn’t much. She explained that sometimes she’d reach for a specific vase and realize that she no longer had it. “Then, what would happen?” I asked. Apparently, nothing much. She’d move on and grab a different vase and continue with her day.

I know she experienced stress in deciding which vases to give away. We magnify and intensify how the moment of missing will be experienced. When you think, “maybe I should have kept that,” or “I wish I still had that,” it’s a fleeting moment in reality. But in the drama of our imaginations, it’s a deterrent to making choices that will improve our lives overall. When we latch on to the fear of potential regret and the over-weighing of what that moment of regret might mean, we lose track of what’s most important. It’s hard to appreciate missing if you think it’ll be all bad.

We forget that missing means you cared or maybe even that you loved. Missing starts with something beautiful.

My mom’s stories about the people in our family who have passed primarily reside in her memories and the stories she tells. But like some, she finds part of her connection to the past through family heirlooms. But these heirlooms aren’t hidden. She keeps them on display and uses them. She tells their stories when in use to bring memories to life. She leans into the beauty of missing people she cared about but isn’t just holding on to these items because of fear.

But more often than not, fear of missing takes the form of unused items packed away in unmarked boxes in an attic, basement, or closet corner. We get little out of keeping in this way. In fact, we lose something by keeping: all the room and mental space we’d have if we were open to letting go — a lighter life. Instead of acknowledging the beauty of missing, we’re stuck in the fear trap.

Missing can happen in a brief moment when we remember having an object we used to use (like my mom’s vase) or elongate into a state of being. We may focus so much on the past that we ignore the present state and wish life to be different. Either way, we need to unpack what the missing means. And acknowledge that it might not mean much.

Missing also exists in the spectrum between a brief moment and a complete state of being. For example, I’m in a long-distance relationship and find myself missing my partner sometimes. But when I miss him, I’m thinking about how much I love him and which parts of him I wish were with me at the moment. The sound of his voice, the way he smiles at me. I’m missing beautiful things because I love him. This makes me feel closer to him, even when he’s further away. So there’s sadness but also happiness: I have someone wonderful to miss. Missing conjures up the love, just as much as it signifies the longing.

What’s most important is focusing on building a life that is simple, less stressful, and more meaningful in the now. Fear distracts us from this. But, when leaning into the beauty of missing, the fear begins to dissipate. Missing will no longer be seen as a mistake that you have to go to great lengths to sidestep. Instead, it can be an emotion weaved through the fabric of your multi-dimensional life. It can add a particular type of richness. And it can remind you of your strength in letting things go.

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