Meaning in the Missing

We don’t fully appreciate some things until they’re gone.

We might intellectually know that we’d miss them, and may even recall a previous absence that struck us like a bell, reverberating through seemingly disconnected aspects of our routines and priorities and lifestyles—but that’s not the same as viscerally, presently experiencing an omission.

I recently had to set aside coffee for a few weeks, for instance, and a morning cup or two of simple, black joe is a ritual I enjoy as part of a larger collection of routines I also enjoy.

The dearth of coffee itself is non-ideal, as mild withdraw symptoms can result from cold-turkeying caffeine. But the loss of that little cup to sip on, that tiny burst of implied energy and wakefulness, that hot bitterness I’ve come to associate with reading and writing and learning and starting my day: that was the real casualty.

The same is true of exercise, which I haven’t been allowed to perform for the past week or so.

The workout itself is worthwhile for many reasons, but the larger role it plays in my life—the many strings that connect it to other rhythms and moods and sensations and habits that are disrupted, altered, or rendered useless in its absence—that’s the vacuum I feel on a visceral level. Which is connected to, but distinct from, the deprivation that’s intellectually understood but not experienced firsthand.

Most of us experience this type of ache at some point in our lives, whether it’s for something relatively mundane, like a beloved beverage or habit, or something far more structural like a home left behind, a job lost, a relationship severed, or an entire lifestyle cadence rendered arrhythmic.

Some absences are pockmarks, others are craters.

Some maintain the shape of painlessly extracted tent stakes, while others collapse into the cavity left by now-missing, massively interconnected root systems.

Some such voids replenish with time or are laboriously reconditioned, while others—a lost loved one, an irreversible decision—remain forever modified.

We don’t always have control over what changes and when, but we do have the ability to perceive such transformations as evolutionary transition points rather than inherently burdensome mutations.

If you found some value in this essay, and if you’re in the financial position to do so, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee.

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