Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Constancy of Change

There are so many things to let go of in the course of one's lifetime. Friendships grow and fade, changing and evolving---or devolving---over time. Parents or other family members grow ill and die. Jobs are lost, careers dissolve and are reconstituted, money flows like water through one's hands. At times, tragedy strikes, and the letting go is sudden, ripping through the fabric of life like a knife, or bludgeoning one over the head with its intensity. But there is one constant, and that is change.

Loss often visits us at the most inconvenient times. We lose our job just as our child is starting college. Our car breaks down the day before we leave for vacation. A new diagnosis throws us into a medical tailspin. Depression rears its challenging head and we are derailed from our usual emotional composure. A sudden and unexpected expense drains our resources and we are financially drained almost overnight. Change---when unplanned---is certainly most inconvenient---with illness and death perhaps being the most unwanted changes of all.

How do we cope with change, especially that which is inherently unwanted and unsolicited? We read books which purport to assist the reader with such transitions in life. Bookstore shelves overflow with self-help books of all stripes, and Americans purchase scores of them, myself included. The Bible offers great comfort to many in times of change and challenge, and millions look towards its wisdom for both comfort and strength of spirit. Most recently, I have turned to several books, including When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron. While it is a Buddhist text, its message is universal and digestible by seekers of any faith.

How else do we cope with change? Psychotherapy, counseling, the church, the shoulder of a friend, alcohol and drugs, food, exercise, sleep, anger, television, denial, resistance---these are all places to which we turn, some obviously healthier than others. We encourage one another to turn to that which is nurturing and healthy, that which will add positively to our personal arsenal of coping mechanisms. Some become lost in addiction, others become lost in meaningless action---"filling time" without really living it. No one ever said it would be easy, and when we are in the thick of it, we realize that this alleged lack of ease is altogether true.

For myself, as I live through perhaps the most difficult time of my life so far---the impending death of a terminally ill parent---I strive to reach for that which is healthy and nurturing. When my best friend was murdered in 2001, post-traumatic stress took its toll, and recovery was slow and painful. An unexpected loss of that magnitude shook the foundations of my world in a way that was both shocking and painful. Now, I face this slow and incremental loss, and its impact---while no less enormous than the loss of my friend---is somewhat mitigated by the ability to begin preparing, to say goodbye, to come to terms, to accept that which is inevitable and unavoidable.

Heraclitus said "everything flows, nothing stands still. Nothing endures but change." This is a lesson which I strive to keep in mind as the winds of change, loss, and death buffet our family's ship. It is all we can do to hold onto the rails and ride the waves as they toss us about. Otherwise, we are thrown into the sea of uncertainty and groundless fear, where we are more likely to lose our way and be lost. And so, we cling to one another and to the ship of family and community, riding the swells until the sea is calm once more.
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