On “Missing”

What is missing?

Before bedtime my four year old and I sit and talk about the existential aspects of this life, a little light-hearted habit we’ve developed. She asks about love, about sadness and happiness. She asks about death. I pretend she is a tourist here, studying me and gathering information to bring back to her home planet.

“Love is when you’re in a thunderstorm and you think it’s beautiful.”

She came up with that one on her own one night.

“When you’re dead you can’t breath and you never wake up.”

“When you’re happy you want to run and smile.”

Her people will be pleased with her assessment of this human life. Still, she asked me to define ‘missing’ and I was at a loss. Suddenly I came to believe that defining ‘missing’ was more complicated than the simple thunderstorm definition of love, more involved than dancing joy and more final than breathless death.

Missing is the most tangled of human experiences. It means love. It means sadness. It means some tumultuous inner conversation regarding ourselves and our realities. It means the utter haunting of connection. It’s longing. It’s remorseful memories and regretful thoughts. It’s reminiscence.

Missing, is all of it.

I tie missing with love as I tie my ability to love and be loved with my capacity to miss and be missed. They are the same. For what is adoration without longing? And this is not merely a function of romantic ideals. Missing in death and missing in distance are part of it too. It’s the simple act of wishing someone or even some thing, were as it was before.

Last week I completed 3.5 weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer. It was easy, I felt. I was tired in the afternoons. I was anxious, but for the most part, I made every attempt to host the front of a person who tackled it in jest and strength.

I returned to normal life quickly. I worked. I took on everything I could at home and I made resolutions. I would do better after all this. I filled my calendar, professionally and socially, and went about life as I waited for the follow up appointment in which we would learn my prognosis. It was no big deal, and I handled it.

Then, one day, I was in the car alone, driving to visit a friend. Suddenly, out of nowhere really, it occurred to me that I had just finished treatment for cancer. For the first time since I was diagnosed, I cried. Sure, I had moments before then, but each time my tears were displaced. I cried because I felt like a burden to my family and friends. I cried because, to me, the worst part of being in treatment was not being able to be there for people I loved.

This was different. These were tears of exhaustion and release. It felt like a near miss. It felt like driving and swerving to avoid another car but nearly going over a bridge. It was adrenaline and relief. A near miss.

I laughed at myself. How could I cry now, when it’s all over?

I realized it was the fear of “missing.”

We live with ghosts, the palest reflections of the palest versions of ourselves, walking through walls, haunting memories of the things we can’t let go. Missing is remembering. How we long is an interpretation of our own worth in this world. To miss. To be missed. All else is just a derivative. Love. Death. Happiness. Familiarity. All of it is really missing.

How do I explain this to the four year old child who believes that love is a thunderstorm? I gave her a few ideas:

Missing is when you want to be near someone, and you cannot. Missing is wishing they were close to you.

Missing is when you had something, but then you lost it.

Missing is when you are not complete.

Missing is when you are lost.

Missing is when you hear a thunderstorm and you think it’s beautiful, and you want to hear it again, over and over.

Missing is when something makes you so happy, and you worry it will end.

I sat and explained. She sat and she listened. With soft eyes she looked up at me and said “I’ll miss you when you go.”

A hand on my heart.

“I’ll miss you too.”