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Life, Love and Loss

Life, Love and Loss

by Eric Bonetti

As we celebrate the holidays, we often think of those we love, those we’ve lost, and of the successes and failures of the past year. But how often do we think of these issues in their larger context? Do we recognize that change is an essential component of growth? That loss is an intrinsic part of love?

I’ve had some occasion to think about these issues over the past year. Last February, I left a job that I very much loved; I deeply mourned its passing.

The job was with a small non-profit that provides affordable housing to persons in need, with an emphasis on persons with disabilities. The position was, itself, a bit of a surprise, as I had neither sought the opportunity, nor ever paid much attention to the issues relevant to the job. Instead, the job found me.

Within days of starting at the job, I discovered that I had a passion for serving those in need. The hours were long, the work hard, and the pay adequate, at best. But the chance to serve others made the long hours not just tolerable, but very much enjoyable.

After leaving the job, I spent some time regrouping, unwinding, and catching my breath. But as I began my job search, it quickly became apparent that few non-profits were hiring, particularly for the sort of senior position that I was seeking.

My response was to begin informational interviewing. In a series of meetings with dozens of colleagues, friends, peers, and mentors, there was one consistent response: “Have you considered sales? You’d probably really like that.”

As a result, I took and passed the real estate exam here in Virginia. Since then, I’ve joined a residential real estate brokerage, and have so far very much enjoyed selling real estate. Even prospecting — a task many agents regard as, at best, a necessary evil — has been tremendous fun.

At the same time, there’ve been the predictable moments of self doubt: “Am I going to be successful? Is this the right job for me?” Overall, those moments have been few and far between, but they’ve certainly been there, and times like these can rattle even the most confident among us, particularly after a painful separation from a previous job.

Things came into perspective, however, on my very first transaction. While I can’t share the details, the situation involved someone at high risk of homelessness, and circumstances where my experience with related issues proved very helpful. Indeed, one person involved in the transaction indicated that most realtors had been far from helpful.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but I think not.

Of all the hundreds of transactions that occur every year in my office, many of them for high-end homes, what were the chances of stumbling on someone whose needs so closely aligned with my past experiences? Or that one of the dozens of other agents in the office wouldn’t quickly snag the opportunity?

Clearly, something was at work here, and it became apparent that my change of jobs was not really a closing of one door, but the opening of another.

The Romans recognized the hand of the divine in such situations through the god Janus. Typically depicted as having both forward- and backward-looking faces, Janus was the god of change and transition, the guardian of doorways, the middle road between barbarianism and civilization. As such, some scholars assert that Janus was among the most powerful of the gods, commonly invoked along with the mighty Jupiter.

A Christians, I suspect we often give short shrift to change as an aspect of the divine. We understand God to be at work in our lives through though the Holy Spirit, but we fail to appreciate change and loss as being both signs of the divine, and in many cases of being sacred in and of themselves.

Instead, we succumb to the all too human tendency to view loss as something inherently and regrettably painful. Pain in turn in seen as something to be avoided whenever possible–as something with almost evil qualities.

In doing so, we lose sight of history as grounded in the resurrection. While we view history as linear, we often see loss and death as the end, versus as a new beginning. We forget that many of the very same qualities that the Romans venerated in the person of Janus are present in our God, our theology, and our understanding of our role in the larger world.

At the same time, our understanding of the divine is one that, through the death on the cross, looks to transform evil to good. Unlike Janus, whose temple doors were closed in those rare times of peace and opened in times of war, and for whom war and destruction was an integral part of life, our God works to transform evil into good, death into life, and loss into renewal.

As I look back over the past several years, I now see that many events in my life, seemingly random at the time, were in fact part of a larger, carefully constructed pattern. I’m also impressed by just how often I have failed to see this pattern, but just blundered along, oblivious to any larger context or meaning.

How many times have you seen the hand of the divine present in your life, but visible only after the fact? How many times have the random events of life proved, in retrospect, to have been parts of a well-ordered plan? And how many times have painful losses been the path forward to a resurrection and a new beginning?

Eric Bonetti is a former nonprofit professional with extensive change management experience. He now works as a realtor.

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