There was a time when change of any kind would throw me into a fog of sentimentality. Now, not so much. On my recent trip to Chicago, a place I’d lived most of my life but had not visited for several years, I was quite surprised to see so many places so radically transformed. I understood the growth around Wrigley field; I had already witnessed the change beginning years before, yet nonetheless it was rather shocking to see the giant shadow of brick that blocked my view from the el as our train passed the ballpark. Neighborhoods that had been run-down and forgotten for years upon years had been rediscovered and revitalized so much so that I didn’t even recognize them until I passed them a second time at street level in a car. This would have sent the old me into a tearful episode. The old me would have taken all this very personally. I would have lamented the lost, original character of the place. But now it’s just not as tragic to me as it once would have seemed. Maybe my changed perspective comes in part from living in a part of the country with a longer history of such man-made changes, or maybe it’s because of my age and the way in which one’s middle years temper the self-righteous character of youth, probably both and more, but for whatever reason I find myself observing the changes in my once familiar world in a thoughtful, measured and slightly detached way. I guess it’s because my personal world was so rocked and transformed over the past few years that it’s made me realize that in the long run it hurts more to resist the change than to accept it. And what ultimately allows me to accept change is the knowing that no amount of physical or experiential transformation can remove the truth of the places and experiences that once existed. They exist for we humans as long as there is a memory, a story.
“In the end, you still have your story”. One day it came to me just like that. I had had an exhausting day of trying, but not succeeding, to better understand how my partner could have changed so. How could he have been that same person to have shared all those years with me? Here he was, now, a different person from the one I had once known. In the end it was fruitless to speculate on how or why he had changed; I needed some way in which to regard our years together such that they were not the loss they seemed to be. The only way I could begin to make peace with my situation was to know that in the end I still had the story – and in it all the good things that it had added to my life. I might not have my husband with me any more, but I do have my memories, my story. And really, after all, just about your whole life is the story. Even what happened five minutes ago is now the story. And whatever it is that no longer exists for you in your present does still exist in the story, and it’s a story you get to keep forever. And in having that memory, that story, you still possess the essence of what it was that pleased you about that person, place or event. For me, knowing that an experience still lives within me is comforting. It’s like I’ve backed up all my files. My house can burn down, but I still have it all inside me. (I sure hope the universe doesn’t put me to the test on that – I do have a friend whose house burned down not once but twice! And he is a musician who lost a lot of precious instruments, writings, music, recordings and mementos from a lifetime of travel. If I were him I’m not so sure my thinking would offer a lot of comfort, yet perhaps he too has reached a state of acceptance. He’s still active and upbeat – I’m guessing the lesson was integrated pretty well.) It’s scary to let things hold such power over you as to render you heartbroken and sick at their loss. It’s a lot healthier to consider yourself lucky to have had the experiences, lucky to have enjoyed the objects while they were yours and feel the gratitude for these things having added to the fullness of your life.
Change has never been easy for me, yet I’m getting better with it. Today I painted a room in my house which held some sentiment for me. It was my son’s room. Shortly after we moved here I has chosen the colors for his room with great care. I’d wanted his room to be easy on his Achromat eyes; not too bright yet with some visual interest to make up for his not seeing color. I chose a green for the bottom third of the walls, blue for the top. Funny thing was, in the end Elihu could not even detect the change in colors for I’d matched the values so well. He would have to examine the wall up close to even begin to see the line. The colors of the walls represented to me the first thing I did here in this house to make it ours. They carried with them the story of his not being able to see the difference in the two colors. They carried with them the story of a mother’s love for her son. The walls carried with them the story of all the books we’ve read together at bedtime in this room. The blue and green walls reminded me of The Story. Today, when I had the walls painted over in dove white, although I knew that the story wasn’t in any way diminished or forgotten as a result, I was still surprised – and pleasantly so – that the change was so easy for me to make. Hmm. Interesting.
The blue and green still shows through a little bit so tomorrow I’ll give the walls another coat of paint. A fresh new color for a fresh new story.