Bernard: About Loss

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(HOST) Commentator Emily Bernard has been thinking about love, loss and lasting values.

(BERNARD) Elizabeth Bishop recommends that we lose something everyday – not everything.  I’ve lost books and boots, and more earrings that I can count.  A friend calls me the losing-est person she’s ever met.

But nothing was worse than losing the dress.  It was hand woven in delicate Ethiopian cotton.  A long, embroidered, dark green Coptic cross decorated the front.  Green and black lattice stitches outlined the neck, hem, and sides of the dress, which was a long, fluid rectangle with short, wide sleeves.  No article of clothing has ever fit me more easily.  

I last saw it hanging on the back of a hotel bathroom door in Montreal.  I didn’t notice it was gone until a week after my family and I had returned from our trip.  I searched for it desperately and then called the hotel.  No, no one had turned in such a dress, they said, but they would call me if it turned up.

At the time I was reading a book about people whose treasured possessions had found their way back to them.  We make an indelible impression upon the things we love, according to the book, just as our things make their imprints upon us.  So, I willed the dress back to me.  

And while I waited for magic, I turned to technology.  I found an Ethiopian clothing store online that featured a similar dress on its website.  I called the owner and told her about the dress I had lost, and she sighed in sympathy.  Unfortunately, her store no longer carried that dress, she said.

So, I called the hotel one last time.  No, they were very sorry, they said, but the dress appeared to be lost.
I first saw the dress five years ago, in the airport in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia.  My husband and I were on our way back to the States with our new twin daughters.  We were months away from green cards, social security numbers, and the adoption on American soil that would make it real, but we were nearly there.
The dress was hanging inside of a clothing kiosk.  Isabella slept in her stroller while I fingered the material and held the dress against me.  The shopkeeper smiled in greeting, and asked me a question in Amharic.  "I’m sorry," I said.  "Oh, you’re American!"  she said, and then gestured at Isabella.  "Your daughter?" she asked.  "Yes.  She was born here.  In Tigray," I said.

I bought the dress without trying it on.  It cost the equivalent of ten American dollars.  I figured if it didn’t fit me, it would fit someone I loved.

I said goodbye to the shopkeeper, and left with the dress I would lose, but also something even more valuable that is mine to keep forever, and that was two lines from my exchange with the shopkeeper:  "Your daughter?"  "Yes."

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