“I have accepted fear as part of life—specifically the fear of change…I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back…” Erica Jong
Change. Many of us struggle against it, and, at the very least, devalue it, like the pennies and nickels and dimes that collect in the bottom of our purses, weighing us down. Change, whether gentle or harsh, is uncompromising in its persistence and its accumulation.
Loose change adds up. Minor changes, some of them which occur so gradually we can’t detect them in real time, are not going to remain small forever. The tiniest of cracks hidden behind a wall may grow undetected for months or years before we discover the mushrooms growing in the attic or we step off the last stair into an inch of water pooling on the basement floor.
And also, for women, there is menopause, which I remember my mother calling The Change. Relief or regret, it makes no difference. At the average age of 51, American women stop having menstrual periods and no longer produce eggs (www.mayoclinic.org). The change comes, though at different ages and with varied symptoms. For men, it seems there’s no age-related end to sperm production (though counts do tend to go down), but the prevalent use of Viagra speaks to a change in performance (erectile dysfunction).
My granddaughter’s skin is silky perfection, my daughter’s, still smooth at thirty something. Mine is a map of a lifetime of laughter, heartache, and a wretched lack of self-care. First, a tiny crease transformed into one small wrinkle between my eyes, an exclamation mark above the bridge of my nose. Surprise!
Over the years that small furrow deepened, and numerous others presented themselves, accompanied by an overall loss of tautness and clarity. When the face one sees in the mirror belongs to someone who appears to have lived through a millennium of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and exposure to harsh elements, it’s only natural to be alarmed or saddened. Many of us fear or loath this facet of aging so much that we slather on sun blocks and night creams, either before the lines make their appearance or as soon as we spot them, hoping it’s not too late. If we can afford it, we go to salons for facials, steam baths, Botox, surgery… Some of us ignore the changes in our skin, or better, take a certain pride in them; we’ve earned them! Regardless of what we do or do not do, the wrinkles come.
Children grow up. Careers change. Our bodies change. Our country changes. The world changes. This is all understandably unsettling.
As for me, I have always been the restless type, one of those odd sorts who has accepted and often sought change in my life, even while at the same time yearning for stability. This very probably has to do with the fact that I experienced a great deal of change as a child, living in different states in different circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong. I had parents who loved me. They just weren’t together and they weren’t all that traditional, and our family experienced multiple dead ends, detours, and reroutes. I loved Dorothy’s “No place like home,” but as an abstract idea only. Something from a pretty story. By the time I was eight years old, I didn’t know where home was.
Wisconsin, Nevada, Illinois, Minnesota, and back again. Thirty-seven years in California (a record!), and then another move. Always wondering where to land. And so, as Vonnegut would say, it goes. Wishing it had been different does no good. Wishing I had been different doesn’t either. And now time, the master architect of change, has brought me to my “golden years.” Not for wimps, my dad used to say. Truth there. And he wasn’t. Nor was my mother. And I won’t be either.
That said, there’s no getting out of this thing alive. All the more reason to wake up, spiritually, physically, academically, socially—in whatever way we are stuck downstream of where we want to be. That’s perhaps why I read so much, and travel. And pack up my belongings and move.
It’s not always effective. The change has often been for the worse, at least temporarily. Sometimes short-sighted. Maybe selfish, too. So, as I consider the changes I will willingly make over the next decade(s), and what painful changes may come that I will have to accept, I endeavor to do so consciously self-aware, and mindful of everything and everyone around me. These are to be among the last changes I will know in my lifetime.
Whatever changes come, I pray to accept them with grace and love, and in deep gratitude for the all the people I’ve known: my beautiful family, my dear friends, my students, colleagues, neighbors—the strangers who smile when we pass, or write a story that moves my soul, or who care for a child, an animal, or our natural world—the world entire.
But for now, it’s time to pack the car. I’m off on another road trip. Wishing you the ability to embrace the best of the changes you make or take, and the fortitude to deal with the worst of them. And may love be your unchangeable superpower.