Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Unavoidable

"All change is evil!" So intoned a funny co-worker in mock stentorian tones at any mandated new procedure or initiative in the world of Peace Corps recuiting. Just when she reached the point where she could do her work with her eyes closed, along would come some new wrinkle that would put her back on her toes and make her do things in a new way. Then she'd adapt, and soon she'd be putting the rest of us to shame with the perfection of her work.

I have to admit I'm of two minds about change. I chose the life I am living now, after sampling several other versions and deciding they weren't for me. Much as adventure and constant movement seemed attractive in the abstract, my basic nature forced me to conclude that what I wanted most was steadiness, security, roots. Once I attained that state of comfort, I discovered it's then less than a baby step to sheer stasis--not a lack of desire to change, but an actual inabilbity to do so, even when change clearly is what is needed. I think I've done pretty well, though, keeping that tendency at bay.

To me, the ideal is a state of constant evolution, organic change that simply arises out of life as it moves on. It gives you a chance to reconnoiter and then adapt, take on some new element that you absolutely need, but make it fit into your basic pattern. Of course, there are times when wrenching change does occur--disasters both natural and man-made, the sudden death of a loved one. As long as we ourselves survive those types of change, we have no choice but to adapt to them, painful as the process may be. But really, we have no choice in adapting to evolutionary change, either. The nice thing about that kind of change, though, is that we often adapt to it without giving it any thought.

We see ourselves in the mirror every day of our lives. Change is happening to us, but it's so gradual we become accustomed to what is essentially a new look without even being aware of it. We have to be shown pictures of ourselves taken years ago even to be made aware of the magnitude of the changes that have taken place. Even then, having acknowledged those changes, we still have a choice as to what to do about them. At 62, I can't deny that I look different from when I was 25. But I don't feel a bit different! If you ask me how old I think I am, I'll tell you 25, or certainly no more than 30. I can keep deluding myself because my health is still decent and I have been spared, mostly, the aches, pains, and other inconveniences that are supposed to be starting "at my age." Remaining childless has also contributed to my eternally youthful outlook. I've never taken on that ultimately authoritartian role of parent; there is no person I helped create and then watched age, there is an entire catalogue of responsibilities and life stages that I have never faced. My four neices, the first born when I was a teenager, have never called me "uncle," and now their kids don't, either. There is nothing in my life to set me apart as "older." I was always the kid in the family and in my mind, I still am.

I seem always to have been aware that we all age in different ways. When I was in my twenties I balked at the general tendency to lump all "old people" together, at giving them a slot, a stereotype. I was grateful to Paul Simon and Neil Young for addressing their seniors honestly and as individuals, and felt in them I had found fellow travelers. Now, being "older" myself, I bridle at words like "spry" and even the supposedly funny "geezer." If you know nothing about me but my age, you might call me both of those things. But if you do know me, or anyone else in my circle who are my age, those descriptives will never occur to you. (Of course, fitting into that generic slot does have its advantages. If you're dumb enough to give me a discount based solely on the calendar, I'll take it!)

Change? Yes, it's happened. Like it or not, it's the nature of life. My hope for us all is that it remains the gentle kind of change, evolutionary, and that when the more distressing kind befalls us, as it inevitably must, we will have the strength to absorb it and evolve on, gently.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post Ralph . . . you haven't lived till a seven year old granddaughter says, "You and Gamma are really old." She was looking at our wedding picture.