Yesterday, John and I returned from a winter adventure in Arizona. For most of the trip, we hiked in beautiful Sedona. On the last full day of our trip, we drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and the only one in the U.S. Between the other-worldly wonder and the briefness of our visit, five hours, it was like a dream by the next morning.

The dream is settling into the reality that I was there and the memories and musings have built up to this bit of writing. When I was a girl, I learned that the Grand Canyon was formed by erosion from the Colorado River, which still flows thousands of feet below the rim of the canyon. When John and I looked at the canyon, we mused aloud, “There’s no way that little river could have made this.” I questioned my memory of my elementary school teachings and possibly, the quality of my public education. I hypothesized that the river must have been much wider and then dwindled in flow bit by bit until it’s current width. Then we got re-educated at the Geology Museum at the park. “The Colorado River has been the same width for the last 5 million years.” The river’s path caused fissures, which led to further erosion by the river’s tributaries. (Or something to that event. The Grand Canyon was right next to me. Turning away from it to read the additional explanation of how it got so wide was lower priority.) The canyon was described as perhaps the best example of the power of erosion in the world.

The primary reason for the Grand Canyon is stream of water that ground away at the strata of rock for 5 million years and counting. That erosion, the gradual diminishing of land, is considered, rightly so, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Loss is such tricky business, whether it occurs slowly, like the Grand Canyon, or more suddenly through the plate movements that created volcanoes and earthquakes in my native Washington State. There is loss of life, habitat, and the literal earth under our feet. And yet there is great beauty. I stand in awe at the power of Earth, at what she can do, all by herself, and instead of feeling frightened, I feel more connected. Yes, I will die. Yes, things will change. But there is a larger context that holds my little life, which is part of the great wonder. Then I am distracted by the beauty and I stop thinking about myself and my mortality.

Loss, as we all know, can cause trauma and grief. It can develop slowly or all at once. There have been much written about it and loss is generally perceived as negative, and often it is. But loss is much more than that, even the really sad losses. John and I have been listening to the podcast, Dolly Parton’s America. (Click on the link after you’ve read this post and you will not be disappointed.) One of the episodes is about how she ended her business partnership with Porter Waggoner. He had helped make her a star but over the years, he was working against her, possessive of her talent, and envious of her building success. When she left she felt “a sad freedom.” That’s acceptance in three words.

Loss can be an education, an acceptance of a reality and the loss of a reality that is no longer or never was true. Loss can whittle away what we want but don’t really need. Like Southwestern ceramic artists have done for centuries, loss can be intentional through the use of a stone to burnish a pot to gleaming black.

Loss can hurt and devastate. It can illuminate, teach, and result in greater wisdom. Holding these truths at once can elicit a sad freedom, joy, awe, anger, and every possible experience in the mindful moments of life.