Guest columnist Marietta Pritchard: ‘The art of losing is not hard to master’

  • A.J. Hastings, at 45 South Pleasant St. in Amherst, will be closing next month after 108 years in business. Photographed on Friday, June 24, 2022. Gazette file photo

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Although I’m married to a man who has taught poetry for decades and who can quote hundreds of lines, I don’t have much poetry in my head. But there’s a line that’s been repeating itself lately: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”

It’s the first line of a much-quoted Elizabeth Bishop poem, wonderfully witty and poignant about all the things the poet has lost. It feels like an epigraph to this moment in history — local, national and global. Every day it seems that something has been subtracted from what we’ve been taking for granted.

The recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, on top of its recent decision to allow guns to be carried almost anywhere, felt breathtakingly brutal. What will happen to poor, young, frightened women needing medical attention? Which freedom will be taken away next? Anything not specified in the Constitution? Anything not specified in laws passed in the 19th century? And will our schools and supermarkets and malls come to feel like danger zones? Are we all now at the mercy of any crazy person with an easily acquired automatic weapon?

Meanwhile, the international scene seems more and more dangerous and chaotic. When Russia invaded Ukraine, who predicted that it would set off famine in Africa or push up the cost of gasoline in the U.S? As the COVID pandemic has shown us, our globe is more interconnected than ever. And what about the health of that globe? Will our grandchildren and their children have enough water to drink and to water crops as the planet heats up? Can we stop a huge number of our elected officials from grandstanding long enough to do their jobs?

Closer to home the losses come steadily. The deaths of friends, inevitable as we age, bring sadness and regret. Then, only this week we learned that one of downtown Amherst’s mainstays, A.J. Hastings, will close. The chances are slim to none of another stationer replacing this all-round useful community anchor.

When our sons were in elementary school and beyond, it was a favorite destination for them to walk to. There, they could sit on the stairs and look at comic books that they might buy. At least once, owner Donald Hastings called us to let us know that one of our kids had started to walk out with a comic without paying for it. He had probably spoken to the boy, too, but wanted us to know. Hastings was a place to get educated about responsibilities. I wish there were more such in the world. But after all,

It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Marietta Pritchard, a former Gazette features editor, lives in Amherst.