Value to be Gained

I was reading a story that has been in the making for a while. The topic was the bankruptcy of Sears, an originally Chicago company that has a more than century-long history. I’ve read a number of stories and articles about Sears over the years. Something about its demise illuminates the ways in which iconic institutions transform themselves and, even still, diminish and die. There’s something in that ending arc that’s worth respecting.

In my reading of stories, and this recent one in particular, I have remembered KMart commercials. I’ve recalled flipping through thick catalogues as a boy, searching the pages for stuff my mother wouldn’t and couldn’t buy. I thought about the time seven years ago I went into the Sears on 79th Street, near Stony Island, just because it was still open and how I shopped for vacuum bags and then went into a sister’s store where she sold fragrant oils and African cloth.

I have slowly reviewed the ways Sears could be the huge business it was, sell so many things, and, as slowly, crack into forgetfulness. I’ve watched Sears linger. I’ve grieved, in a way, at the death of a business so meaningful. And even without knowing why I’ve felt so endeared toward the store.

I’ve thought about all the years and all the people who have worked there, made careers there, been given first jobs there and about how very little is written about those folks. I’ve thought about the highlights from the cratering of Sears centering on the named executives. I’ve been disappointed that after one hundred plus years, the stories last told are about the high-level figures who made the most money and seldom, if ever, about the people who sold washing machines and light bulbs and winter clothing.

Even with my slow thinking about this store’s end, I don’t have many memories of the place. We shopped at Everblack–also called Evergreen Plaza–where Montgomery Ward held premium real estate. My big brother took me into Oaktree for a black suit, a peach shirt, and tie with images of something like grapes. Mama took me and Mark to McDonalds sometimes in the pavilion where they’d later play live music on the weekends. I bought a girl I liked a gold bracelet at Chain Reaction one Christmas, and the Original Cookie Company knew me for several of those splendid pizza-sized chocolate chip cookies. But I didn’t really sit with the decline of the Plaza. I drove by as they demolished it, but I don’t remember thinking through that change. Perhaps it was in the driving by, in the re-viewing, in the re-visiting that I grieved in a stretched out way for Everblack.

Now though, I’m sitting with the death of Sears and what it means. I don’t live near a Sears. It takes too much effort to pass by the 79th Street location just to witness that old building sitting like a shell  and to see this storied company’s death. Death is not a legal term. The company couldn’t compete, couldn’t maintain or re-engineer itself for the times, despite new leadership, changed strategies, effective-for-a-time consultations and re-organizations. Sears had to die.

I’m sad about it. Sad in a way that I can’t quite articulate. Sad, perhaps, because it’s one of those institutions that predated me that is now dying prior to me. And I hope to live a long time! Sad, perhaps, because it is something that was born before me that will not outlive me. Sad, perhaps, because I shop at the places that have contributed to the death of this store and company. Then, again, as the story said, Sears could return:

It may be that we haven’t seen the last of Sears. But insomuch as we may be losing a storied brand that holds some cultural value, there is value to be gained back in the form of insight.

Endings gift us with insight. Losing grants us space to mourn. Sometimes we notice and use that space. Sometimes we pass by it as we scroll down the day’s newsfeed, acting as if that title didn’t connect with an unwanted loss. So I keep considering where my grief begins.

I know the name and role of Julius Rosenwald is a part of my adult reflections on Sears. Rosenwald’s support of historically Black schools and centers of learning have developed in me profound respect. I used to walk around the corner to see his old home, to “pay my respects,” and to keep the appreciation for what he did alive in me. It may be there that my grief begins. Not that Rosenwald was single-handedly responsible for the success of Sears as we knew it. That may be attributed to him, but there is no such thing as single hands in business or anything else, is there?

My grief is related to Rosenwald but I’m sure that’s not the length of it. And I also don’t yet know the “value to be gained.” I’m not sure of this loss’s insight. I’ll have to wait. I’ll have to see. I do know that I have lost before. I know that all losses have eventually brought me something, even something small, and, in that offering, has been generous to me.

This loss–and all my losses–can be trusted for that. They are brutal, losses, and some of them intend to wipe away the easy comfort a person has with the world. Losing a job or closing a company or ending anything may mean changing the trust you have in your footing. You lose trust, but you still can trust that something else is coming. It may be insight. It may be grace. It may be a lesson. It may be a quality. Loss will take something from you, no doubt, but taking is never all that loss does.

In the meantime, you wait and when you can, you wait with hope. I’m right there waiting too.

Wisdom, Major Deaths & Transformation

I was reading Fr. Rohr’s meditation the other day. I should say that when I read it, I was thinking about grief already, thinking about loss. It was the week prior to my final goodbye at New Community where I served for a touch over eleven years. Even though I made the change for good reasons, it was still a change.

That change was laced with loss and that loss meant grief. I am grieving that loss, grieving that change. Of course, there are other changes and losses, too. I, like you, am grieving more than one thing at a time. I try to stay in some touch with those losses to respect them, to hear them, and to learn from them.

Fr. Rohr was discussing Walter Brueggemann’s observation that the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom Literature (three scriptural categories in the first testament of the Christian scriptures and the three parts of revelation making up the Hebrew Bible) represent the development of human consciousness. These three parts of biblical witness present what it means for humans to be, to become. Fr. Rohr was underlining the importance of these three types of witness in life.

We need to be reminded of our original createdness in God’s community (Torah is our instruction in that very truth). We need to live close to those voices that help us look beyond ourselves, our egos, and our small commitments (Prophets do that). We require for living well criticality that helps us see honestly how to live toward the self and others (Wisdom offers those guides).

It was in this brief reflection that Fr. Rohr said,

Wisdom literature reveals an ability to be patient with mystery and contradictions—and the soul itself. Wise people have always passed through a major death to their egocentricity. This is the core meaning of transformation.

I find it taxing, staying true to transformation. It’s hard to be faithful to transformation because in being faithful to that change, I’m signing up for continued self-noticing and continued self-growth. I’m setting myself in places where I plan to notice others and plan to grow others. I plan not to die in one sense. In another sense, this is absolute death. This is surrender. It’s scary. It’s major.

If you’re feeling your own grief, passing through a death (whether it’s minor or major to you), name it as a part of your transformation. The contradictions that scar your soul, the mystery that leaves your heart hungry for more than what’s in front of you, name them as sources of revelation about not only your death but your life. Your steps, your paths, and your journey are leading somewhere, and it’s called transformation.

Try your best to trust. Even the attempt is a death. It is also the emergence of life.