Losing... everythingIt is breathtaking, the extinguishing of consciousness. Yet that loss, too—our own ultimate unbeing—is dwarfed by the grander scheme. When we are experiencing it, loss often feels like an anomaly, a disruption in the usual order of things. In fact, though, it is the usual order of things. Entropy, mortality, extinction: the entire plan of the universe consists of losing, and life amounts to a reverse savings account in which we are eventually robbed of everything. Our dreams and plans and jobs and knees and backs and memories, the childhood friend, the husband of fifty years, the father of forever, the keys to the house, the keys to the car, the keys to the kingdom, the kingdom itself: sooner or later, all of it drifts into the Valley of Lost Things.
When Things Go Missing - The New YorkerThe verb “to lose” has its taproot sunk in sorrow; it is related to the “lorn” in forlorn. It comes from an Old English word meaning to perish, which comes from a still more ancient word meaning to separate or cut apart. The modern sense of misplacing an object appeared later, in the thirteenth century; a hundred years after that, “to lose” acquired the meaning of failing to win. In the sixteenth century, we began to lose our minds; in the seventeenth century, our hearts. The circle of what we can lose, in other words, began with our own lives and one another and has been steadily expanding ever since. In consequence, loss today is a supremely awkward category, bulging with everything from mittens to life savings to loved ones, forcing into relationship all kinds of wildly dissimilar experiences.
When Things Go MissingData from one insurance-company survey suggest that the average person misplaces up to nine objects a day, which means that, by the time we turn sixty, we will have lost up to two hundred thousand things. (These figures seem preposterous until you reflect on all those times you holler up the stairs to ask your partner if she’s seen your jacket, or on how often you search the couch cushions for the pen you were just using, or on that daily almost-out-the-door flurry when you can’t find your kid’s lunchbox or your car keys.) Granted, you’ll get many of those items back, but you’ll never get back the time you wasted looking for them. In the course of your life, you’ll spend roughly six solid months looking for missing objects; here in the United States, that translates to, collectively, some fifty-four million hours spent searching a day. And there’s the associated loss of money: in the U.S. in 2011, thirty billion dollars on misplaced cell phones alone.
Take money away for failing to exerciseFor a 13-week study, researchers randomly assigned 281 people to one of four groups. The goal for each person was to achieve 7,000 steps a day, recorded on a smartphone accelerometer. Those in the first group got $1.40 for each day they reached the goal. In the second group, the reward for success was entry into a lottery with a possible payoff of $100. Those in the third were given $42 the first day of every month, deposited in an online account, and had $1.40 automatically deducted each day they failed to achieve 7,000 steps. A control group received only daily feedback about their performance. The study is in Annals of Internal Medicine. The control group achieved their goal 30 percent of the time, and the lottery and paid-every-day groups performed statistically no better, at 35 percent. But the group paid upfront, risking a loss every day, succeeded 45 percent of the time.
Putting for par is easier than putting for birdieA study of over 1.6 million putts shows that professional golfers are significantly more likely to succeed in sinking a par putt than a birdie putt of equal distance and difficulty. Remarkable but true: If the average top golfer putted as well for birdie as he puts for par, he would make an additional $1.2 million a year.
There’s a word in Hebrew—malkosh—that means “last rain.” It’s a word that only means something in places like Israel, where there’s a clear distinction between winter and the long, dry stretch of summer. It’s a word, too, that can only be applied in retrospect. When it’s raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one. Having a mother—being mothered—is similar, in a way. It’s a term that I only fully grasp now, with the thirst of hindsight: who she was, who I was for her, what she has equipped me with.