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The Best Way to Deal With Loss

As I was sprinting through the cavernous Hong Kong airport toward my gate Sunday afternoon, a deodorant roll-on in my bag cracked and leaked all over my laptop.

The laptop is replaceable, but its contents are not. There may be a way to recover my files, but for the moment it looks like I have lost nearly all of the photos I took over my eight months abroad.

If I did, I will be devastated.

I was so happy to survive my back-to-back 12-hour flights today, arrive in Vancouver and check into a nice hotel room for my final night away. But when I took out my laptop to find it dripping with scented gel, my whole world went black.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Today was supposed to be a day of gratitude. By the end of today I expected to be completely in love with where I was in the world. Everything in its right place.

But it turned awful. Unable to shake my angry thoughts, I knew I needed perspective. I needed to find a place in my head where I could see the bigger picture and really understand that my problem isn’t so bad.

So I took a walk, watching people on the street for somebody clearly worse off. Somebody I wouldn’t trade places with in a million years.

I saw businessmen, bums, cops, shopkeepers, hipsters, ordinary joes and schoolkids. And very quickly I realized that there’s nobody I’d trade with, no matter how complete their photo collection is.

I have so much. Tomorrow I’ll wake up on a warm, comfortable bed, and eventually seat my young, able body on a plane. Then I’ll fly back to my peaceful hometown, greet my wonderful family, and catch up with my amazing friends.

Then I will have my whole life ahead of me.

I lost some sexy travel photos. Big deal. There are people in this very city who lost so much more today. How would I feel if my dumb mistake had cost me an arm today? Somewhere, somebody is dealing with that loss right now. That kind of bad day.

Somebody out there lost his home today.

Somebody else lost his best friend.

Somebody else lost his son or daughter.

Even losing a button off a fancy shirt can ruin the day if we lose perspective.

That’s the way to deal with loss: to be grateful. It’s the last thing you’d think to do, but that’s when gratitude is most powerful.

Gratitude is knowing — really knowing — what you’ve got before it’s gone.

The perfect time to be grateful is when you think you’ve lost something huge.

And that’s because loss can help you understand the incredible fortune of still having every single thing you didn’t lose today.


Andy June 28, 2010 at 3:11 am

Beautiful post David. It is wonderful that you were able to gain this perspective in real time, not weeks later, or never, as would have been the case with most people. It really sucks you lost your pics. But hey, there never would have been pics in the first place if you hadn’t just taken the trip of a lifetime. Things could be worse. I’m usually not one to believe in destiny, but the timing on this is peculiar. Maybe you were meant to lose those pictures. who knows?

David June 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Well it wasn’t quite real time. I suffered recurring tantrums for a few hours. :)

And you’re right — I don’t know the long term consequences of this. They might be good ones. Char said this is my chance to be the “maybe so maybe not” monk from the fable.

DiscoveredJoys June 28, 2010 at 3:46 am

Perspective gives you a good way of dealing with life’s bumps. But don’t let acceptance blind you to the possibility of change….

Don’t bin the laptop. It may be possible to clean the laptop and make work ok. Even if the laptop is unrecoverable it is likely that the hard drive can be recovered and read in another machine. Even if the hard drive is damaged it may be possible (although expensive) to recover many of the files.

And even with the benefit of your perspective, and the possibility of data recovery, you have learned a valuable lesson about making copies of data and keeping them separate… Strangely a lesson that most computer geeks (who should know better) learn the hard way too.

David June 28, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Yes, I guess everyone learns a lesson about backing up one way or another. I hope I do get them back, because the lesson’s already been learned :)

Joy June 28, 2010 at 4:07 am

It *is* about perspective…and I’m glad you chose gratitude for what you have that you currently hold in your heart, over sadness at the loss of tangible that you hold in your hand..
I live a dream…my reality is something many never experience, and yes it is peppered with “stuff”, but at the end of the day– regardless of what was in that day–I sleep with moonbeams shining through my front hatch…try as I may I am unable to take a photo to capture that, but it’s in my very Being, my essence…I can’t ‘show’ it to you, but it’s my life..and it’s easily felt when I interact…
*You* live a dream..many people have photos, but you have memories of a reality that some only ever dream about…all that you’ve seen and experienced shall be easily felt by those you interact with, even if you can no longer physically show them the beauty and adventure…
May I share something? We each have a story of loss..many try to one up the other with stories of loss..Your loss is important to you, because those photos were important to you..but because you kept your heart open even through your emotions, you’ve received a gift of insight that you will find will eventually be far more significant to you than your photos…

David June 28, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Whatever happens, I have already benefited from this experience. It will certainly save files from carelessness in the future, and maybe a lot more.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) June 28, 2010 at 5:19 am

That pit of the stomach dread, realising the loss~ feel for you.

Am glad the first thing you did was get outside amongst it (life).

I am stoked for you that your feeling liberated and in gratitude.
Your experience is much much more than a photo; perhaps the friendships and memories and realisations you have will be the loss returned in another form.

You may find that sense of peace disconcerting at times~ accepting that we are at where we think we still need to journey to can be overwhelming, especially in a culture that encourages avoidance of chaos/oneness/dissolution into unity (fana). Sharing the treasure you’ve discovered and will continue to find (baraq) is what will pull oneself back to one’s centre.

“I saw grief drinking a cup of sorrow and called out, “It tastes sweet, does it not?” “You’ve caught me,” grief answered, “and you’ve ruined my business. How can I sell sorrow, when you know it’s a blessing?” (Rumi)”

David June 28, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Love those words of yours, thank you. (and Rumi’s)

Jay June 28, 2010 at 7:23 am

I think we’ve all been there before, and man, does it ever suck. Losing something that is important to us is never easy, but it can be a powerful teacher if we allow it to be. We can learn (or get a chance to practice) our Buddhist non-attachment, and we get a great opportunity to practice gratitude. I’m sorry you lost your photos (or maybe you didn’t – please do check to see if the data can be recovered), but I am glad that you chose to embrace the lesson on gratitude.

When I moved to Chicago, I lost all of my music that I had ever created in my life. I lost the audio files, the word documents of the lyrics, and in a strange double-whammy, I lost all of my hard copies, too. My entire musical “career” was completely lost forever. At the time, I was devastated. However, over time, I came to see it as a blessing because it made room and gave me inspiration to write even better songs and create even more music.

I’m not sure how that applies to *your* situation, I just wanted to let you know that I sympathize, and that if you can find a silver lining, you might find that it was for the best.

And hey, now you have a reason to go *back* :)

David June 28, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Thanks Jay I appreciate that. I realized today that I also lost a few almost-complete articles. But I wasn’t quite happy with either of them, and maybe it’s best if they don’t come back. There are always silver linings and black clouds, and I can put my attention on whatever energizes me most.

Brenda (betaphi) June 28, 2010 at 10:24 am

Your airport incident sounds like a final exam in a course called “Nonattachment 101.” Don’t be devastated. You passed with flying colors!

Back when photos were kept in binders, I lost all of mine in a flood. The full record of my roaring twenties was gone in a flash, but the timing was impeccable. I was at such a turning point in my life. I winced around for a while and then felt fine. Life wants us not to cling to stuff, so we get these lessons in release.

What about the photos you uploaded on Facebook? Aren’t they still there?

David June 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I do have quite a few photos on Facebook and DGK still. But the biggest loss was a fifteen-minute video I made of my whole trip using pictures and music. I spent many hours on it and was excited to show it to people back home and post it on Raptitude. Whatever happens, I’ll be fine.

Brenda (betaphi) June 28, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I would change deodorant brands if I were you.

David July 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Oh I have. It’s really hard to find a stick in New Zealand. They are a roll-on nation.

Danielle June 28, 2010 at 10:35 am

*Perfection* Great job on this one, and excellent timing, too. Love it!

David June 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Thanks Danielle!

Tom K June 28, 2010 at 10:44 am

Bummer. But you remembered that catastrophe = opportunity–EXCELLENT!!

Whenever I take a photo, it’s with the awareness that this is the equivalent of an ordinary thought arising in the brain: a truncation and reification of the Nameless, Omnitaneous, Everywhere and Everyhow. Small loss, eh?

David June 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Wise man you are Tom.

Rosa June 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Wow Dave, I admire you. It takes courage and peace of mind to do that, and to write such a great post about gratitude afterwards. But you’re right, you are lucky, we all are in different ways. We all have lots of things to be grateful for. Congratulations on your attitude. :)

David June 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Always good to hear from you Rosa. Thank you.

Ryan June 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm

That’s a bummer about the laptop but I agree with a poster above. Given what happened, even if the computer is toast, it is highly likely that the hard drive to the laptop is still in good condition. If that’s the case then it’s can be relatively cheap to have someone boot it up on another machine and just transfer all of your files to an external hard drive. Fret not, you will most likely get all of your photos back!

David June 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Thanks Ryan. Yes I’m confident I can get the files back. That’s tomorrow’s mission.

Walter June 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Foolish we are most of the time in not finding the good in our lives. We easily get affected by things and events that goes beyond our expectations. We should always remember the blessings we enjoy in life no matter how small, because somewhere there are those who trade their soul just to have the blessings we have. :-)

David June 28, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Hi Walter. I’ve noticed that I our blessings are most apparent when they disappear. When the heat gets shut off, when we can’t find our car keys, when someone exits our life. That’s when we see how precious they are.

Lucas February 21, 2014 at 2:17 am

Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my
4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She
put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was
a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
LoL I know this is completely off topic
but I had to tell someone!

Peter June 28, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Welcome back, David. I admire your endeavors to broaden horizons, see the world, and come to realize your place in the universe. Unfortunate as is the apparent loss of your laptop/drive, all things are temporary. Appreciating that which we have, while it is still there in our lives…that is truly a valuable skill. In this case, I believe you will be able to get your data back if you value it enough.

Ah… I was about to mention the related post(s) about loss, but I see now I overlooked the Related Posts section. You carry a lot of themes through quite a span of time, in different forms.

This is my first post here, though I have been reading off and on for nearly 10 months. While I wouldn’t say I was antisocial at the outset, a combination of your musings and the increased social contact of college life have enabled me to gain a tremendous amount of perspective. I now wish to do something similar, and see the world. Finances are somewhat tight at the moment, but then…where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Keep up the good work. We may all be unique, but we’re all human. We have a great deal in common, and can gain much through the experiences of others. You are an inspiration to many.

Thank you.

David July 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thanks Peter, I’m glad you’ve found Raptitude helpful.

I did get the data back. But I’m proud of myself that I didn’t get too upset before then. Pictures are priceless, but I can always make more for free :)

DerzaFanistori June 29, 2010 at 3:01 am

Great post and train of thoughts I can really relate to. There’s no better person in the world to pick us up than our own self.

This also reminded me of the great post I read on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist: “The biggest triumph is getting out of bed” and how it ends beautifully stating that “High achievers don’t have failures because they can learn from everything.”

Here’s the link if you want to check it out http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2010/03/09/the-biggest-triumph-is-getting-out-of-bed/

David July 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Right on, I will check that out.

Ken June 29, 2010 at 6:35 am

Wow, this blog came at a time when I lost an opportunity to be in a relationship with a woman I absolutely adored. I had let a lot of fear, apprehension and lack of experience and confidence hinder me, and I’ve been trying to get past the regret. Thank you for a blog that put things in perspective.

David July 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm

The longer I live, the more I keep discovering that perspective is the key to everything. Our emotions make reality appear out of proportion to us. We lose perspective. There are ways to get it back though, even while the emotions are still swirling.

Paramjit June 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm

As you have rightfully pointed out, we do not realize the extend to which we should be grateful until we realize about someone else who has a greater loss. The moral of the story is to be grateful for all the wonderful things that we already have.

David July 1, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Yeah it’s all about finding perspective. Somebody else’s troubles can give us perspective when we can’t find it in our own lives.

Cai Graham June 30, 2010 at 3:41 am

Thanks for this post David.
As a photographer this really hit home – but it’s what is in your heart that really matters.
Glad that you got home safely

Cai x

David July 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Luckily I was able to recover the data. Hopefully you have a good backup system for all your photos. I’ve learned a lesson from this; I hope others can too, without having to do it the hard way.

Hilary June 30, 2010 at 5:21 am

Hi David .. what a pain .. but it teaches us a lesson! Though I’m sorry about the video etc .. especially as you’d prepared it before you returned ready to show everyone .. really frustrating – but life is life.

I remember I went to a party with all my mates for a friend who was dying .. lots of us – a squash party .. and as I was leaving SA I took loads of photos so I’d have memories of everyone – but reloaded the old film & so each negative had double images .. still frustrates me – but so be it!

Enjoy your time home – people .. family and friends are the most important .. have fun – Hilary

David July 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Ooh that’s too bad. Digital photography makes it easier to protect our photos, but it also makes us (at least me) lazier about cherishing them. You can always make more copies, they never deteriorate, but they can still be lost if you’re careless like me.

Dr. G June 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

There is actually nothing else that I could say that hasn’t been said in the 29 comments above already. However, David, I am IMPRESSED how you dealt with it, and I wish to acknowledge you for that. (At the same time, I hope for you that there is still a chance to recover the contents of the hard disk.)
As a coach, I often have to deal with reframing perspectives of clients. Your experience and your change in perspective is a wonderful example (sorry if you don’t consider this encounter wonderful overall…) that I might use here and there ;-)

David July 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I’m glad I knew what to do. I feel like by this point I’ve developed a bit of a mental toolkit for dealing with different kinds of problems. It wasn’t exactly painless, but I knew there was no point getting overwhelmed.

Patty - Why Not Start Now? June 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm

So sorry to hear about the spill, David. I’m fascinated by this, because I’ve been pondering the same thing lately, about the intersection of grief and gratitude. I wrote about it earlier this month in fact. And I came to the conclusion that the opposite is true for me. Going towards gratitude actually made it worse for me, and what I really needed to do was allow myself to experience the grief, or at least find some sweet country between gratitude and grief. Interesting, isn’t it?

David July 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Yes that is interesting. And I know what you mean. The grief certainly found me, but in the past I might have really indulged in it, riding thoughts of blame for the airline for being late, for Hong Kong airport for being so huge, for New Zealand for only stocking liquid deodorants… but there’s no good in that. Feeling the grief is part of accepting it, I’m not aware of any way to circumvent it. But it can rain or it can pour, and the difference is how one responds to it, IMHO.

Brad June 30, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Bummer. I lost everything on my computer a while ago. But honestly, I don’t really notice what I miss. Well, some portfolios would be a little stronger, but nothing truly crippling. But yeah, the bigger tragedies are all around us.

This may sound pessimistic, but I am absolutely amazed at how many things can go wrong in life. I bite the inside of my lip and reel in pain from a bundle of nerves that are much less than 1 percent of my total arsenal. Just a tiny chink in the somatic armor causes this searing pain. And physical pain itself is just one of many things that leads us to suffer.

So on the positive side, it is actually amazing how many things go right.

David July 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm

We are very vulnerable. How much goes right and wrong does depend on what you make of what happens to you. A person can get better at accepting what happens in real time — preferable or unpreferable — and then less of the stuff that happens is ‘bad.’ This is what I want to get better at.

But like you say, it’s amazing how much good stuff happens, even though we’re so susceptible to chance.

CK July 1, 2010 at 2:48 am

Pictures are just pictures. They don’t bring back the damp scent of a wet forest, or the feel of salty breeze on your skin, or that immense (and diminutive) feeling you have standing on top of mountain and looking at a faded blue horizon. Those are memories. Those give colour and depth and texture to your pictures. I took a lot of photos when I went backpacking around South America for three months. Each one meant something when I took it. I brought them back, and watched as friends and family cavalierly flipped through them. I wanted to tell a story about each one, but it would have taken too long, so I didn’t. It made me realize that it wasn’t the photos that mattered, it was the memories I held that mattered more. And the stories. Imagine if you had the pictures, but someone took away your memories?

(Also, in future, back it up.)

David July 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm

You’re totally right. I wrote a post about this called Moments Can’t Be Captured. I will always have the memories, and they’re much more vivid than any picture. But the pictures do help trigger those memories, and they are also the best way of relating my experiences to other people. But I completely agree.

I have learned my lesson about backing up, though in the end I was able to get the photos back.

David July 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Good news!

I was able to recover all the data. The laptop is a writeoff though, but I’ve got every one of my pictures (and some almost-finished articles I forgot I’d lost.)

So all is well, and lessons duly learned.

Uzma July 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Hi. The most powerful form of gratitude that I’ve felt is when one is healing from injury or sickness. It feels like a mess. Yet in a developing country like India, where I am from, it would be grave folly not to be grateful even in illness. For some of us here can afford treatment. Not everyone can. Moving into gratitude does give one peace and much graciousness for what we have. So much. Glad to hear you’re pics survived. Hopefully we’ll get to see them.

finallygettingtoeven.com July 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm

What a powerful post that really brings it home for us. We need to be grateful for what we do have instead of what we have seemingly lost in the short term. I hope you are able to recover your pictures and the man upstairs may be smiling upon you and allow that simply because you took a more humble ‘high-road’ instead of lashing about your hotel room all night wallowing in self pity. I am ‘wishing’ this for you!

Vincent Nguyen July 3, 2010 at 1:29 am

Your article hit home pretty hard my friend…and I thank you for that because like you said…it brings to us the perspective of appreciation and gratitude for everything we have now.

1) Due to an error on my organizing(or lack of), I lost all 20,000 of my sports cards(15 years of collecting) while moving
2) Lost my job and it was financially devastating
3) My wife and I had a miscarriage, which was the most gut-wrenching and painful feeling ever.

So yeah I have had some losses. But the “now” is that much more worthwhile David when our little girl Mikayla was born 3 months ago. :-D

Have a fantastic weekend my friend

Jacob July 3, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Excellent recovery, I wish I could boast the same.
The problem with the likes of me is we’re too egotistical to dismiss the “seriousness” of our loss so fast.
Your site is really wonderful, though, despite my pessimism.

Jamie July 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm

“The perfect time to be grateful is when you think you’ve lost something huge.” I had a wonderful spiritual teacher one say to me and I paraphrase. “To look a discordant situation directly on and deny it’s hold on you should always be your goal”. I would have lost it too if that had happened to me. But, I would have remembered that quote and it most likely would have taken me a few days to shake it off. But, if I know that’s my goal then I have something to work with other than frustration and confusion.

On the other hand the same spiritual teacher, his name was Dr. Kennedy Schultz, God rest his soul, also told me the time for gratitude is when you are in the midst of happiness, zeal, a job well done, amongst dear and loving friends. A time when you feel as if the universe has conspired to bring all the perfect elements together just for you and you are happy, elated. It is at times such as these that I sometimes pause just a moment, and in my mind give thanks.

Tobi February 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I don’t mean to be a debbie downer, but this was some vacation photos. Not a person. I just had a horrible loss and no matter how thankful I try to be I don’t care about what I have, because it will not bring them back. In fact I’m almost angry about it, because no amount of wonderful stuff or people is going to bring him back, so who cares?

David February 9, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Loss exists on a big spectrum, from losing a phone number to losing a person. To somebody else these are just vacation photos, but to me they were symbols of a hugely important time in my life.

This article might be more relevant:


Frank Tuttle April 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm

If this kind of thing ever happens again, remember that even if your computer is ruined and un-bootable, you can still recover your data by opening up the computer and physically removing the hard drive. You can then place the drive into a USB dock which allows it to function as an external hard drive. Then just transfer your files over to another computer’s hard drive. (You can also have a computer repair shop or data recovery company do this for you). If you’ve still got your damaged laptop, you might be able to do this.

I learned early on in the game that anything goopy or messy that was going into a suitcase/backpack/whatever had to be securely zip-locked in plastic bags (sometimes more than one) in order to avoid accidental gloppage.

In the meantime, my sincerest sympathies on this unwanted complication.

David April 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm

I did end up recovering all the data.

And the goop was in a plastic bag. It had to be because it was in my carry-on at the airport and I’d just come through security. What happened was a glass container cracked without my knowledge and when I threw it in my back the glass must have punctured the bag. Read bad luck.

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