The Power of Change

The Power of Change

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The Power of Change

My best friend’s ex-boyfriend used to tell her “that’s the difference between you and me…you’re a tree and I’m a blade of grass. You’re problem,” he would say, (apparently never having learned that starting off any piece of advice with “your problem” is the kiss of death) – “your problem is that you need to learn to bend.” He might have questioned his desire to have her heed such advice some months later after she dumped him for his best friend and tossed the shredded bits of his world into thousands of irreparable pieces. And, as cliché as his words of guidance may seem, I have now begun to think him rather astute, for in the months that followed their separation my friend transformed her behaviors in the most fundamental and opposing ways: she traveled more, replaced her old job with one she actually liked, gave herself over to the pleasures of a most memorable one night stand, and today smiles randomly and with more charm than I have ever remembered.

It is a fiction that we become less spontaneous and more rigid as we get older, that we are all blithe and adaptable children. As for me, I hated change as a child, resisted it like a dry naked body would sliding down a fire pole. I experienced each new thing as a betrayal. A new friend in the circle meant, not more love to go around, just less time for the old ones. It also meant going off the course, entering something unseen, welcoming an unknowable unfolding. Change was not transformation. It was exchange – this for that – an end for a beginning.

How we come into this world– that is– the state in which we arrive is a complete mystery to me. While other children, my siblings included, relished new pets, or a new piece of furniture for their bedroom or the hope of a family vacation, I capitulated to a kind of juvenile asceticism. When I was eight I spent the whole of a trip to Disney World grumpy and brooding, not because I wanted something I was denied, but because I sensed that in the excitement that fueled everyone else – that in that exodus from our routine of school and homework and sports and homemade dinners – there was the prospect that anything could happen. And anything could change everything.

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Imagining the structure of the universe this way so early on in life makes for an adulthood of careful choosing. One does not live hastily, fall in love too easily or make trivial friendships. One endures with loyalty and devotion.

But I’ve learned that my own inability to deal with change was not immune to change itself. When my father died, when I was thirty, there appeared a gentle directing hand that led me to periodically give up these strict roles, opting for what was before the unthinkable – interludes of capriciousness, betrayal and, yes, laziness. When my father died everything changed, catalyzing a series of events, all of which seemed to unfold without the kind of effort that I was used to giving. In a very short time my mother sold the house I grew up in and got remarried. Not long before that I ended my own twelve year relationship. My mother’s remarriage and the thoughts of ceasing my situation of pseudo-conjugality may have signaled something different for both of us. But what was now clear was that the years of self-discipline, my father’s death, and the recent break-up were not events cut off from each other. They were not marked moments in time, not simply beginnings and endings, but were interwoven ingredients into what was and continues to be the rich mix and energy of my life.

Last week my same best friend, now newly married, called and said, jokingly, “Let’s go on one of those “makeover” shows, not the ones where they indiscriminately cut into the body and provide personal trainers, but the ones where everyone gets a new outfit and a haircut.” I told her that I couldn’t bear the part where they do the “before” and “after.” “You ever notice,” I said “how the “before” is almost always better than the “after” – how in the “after” the people appear like deformed portraits of their former selves. Do you think other people think the same thing? Do you think the people on the show think it?” “Maybe it doesn’t matter,” she said, “because 9 times out of 10, they’re wide-eyed and beaming.” And she’s right. It’s true. They are. Something powerful resides in the energy of the “after,” in that outcome of the alchemy of change itself, something that somehow makes the rest unimportant - ugly outfit, bad hairdo or not.
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