First, a nod to Michelle for an awesome post that includes this gem:
“2. If you ever have the opportunity to hang out in a pickup with an apex predator*, go for it.”
Similarly, if you ever have the opportunity to camp on National Park land in South Dakota with some large ungulates, do not hesitate to take it.
This challenge got me to thinking about experiences I’ve had in the ten years that I’ve been a widow, and how much I would like to be able to tell my husband, “Can you believe it? This happened, and I’m sorry you missed it.”
For instance, I’d love to see his face when he hears that my little brother finally got married…and our youngest daughter officiated.
And would he ever image that I would do the wedding photo shoot for our son?
Could he have pictured me as a costumed historic interpreter or a campaigner for a progressive presidential candidate?
Photo by Jay Filter
Ten years ago, I would have thought all these things were pretty unlikely, but change is always the surest thing in our future. I’ve come to believe that’s not a bad thing.
“This week, share a photograph that signifies transitions and change to you… Explore the ways in which a single photograph can express time, while only showing us a small portion of any given moment.”
Time and change symbolized in a static, 2-dimensional image — not an easy trick. However, all around us there are clues to the way that Nature has changed things over time. How about:
1) The resting place of the bleached pelvic bone of an elk who once wandered this tall grass prairie in South Dakota
2) The abstract art of calcite deposits left in a cave long after limestone has dissolved
3) The fossilized bones of dinosaurs that roamed the Earth some 150 million years ago, exhibited for present day tourists to see and touch
4) These stately forms of sandstone, layered and eroded over time
5) The moment in time when light, air, water and Earth meet in a colorful conjunction, only to disappear in the next movement of the elements
Of these five examples, which one speaks to you of the joy in change and movement?
…in a new place. Since the first of November, I’ve been living on land owned by the Conservation Foundation where I work. However, at the end of the month, my boss tendered his resignation. What direction will the Foundation take going forward? I’m not quite sure. As the only employee there now, I have a lot of work to do. It will be an uphill slog along an obscured path, maybe more like this photo: So, “we’re not out of the woods yet”, but frankly, the woods is where I want to be. That is where new life is pushing up from under the decay. And that’s pretty exciting! So, my resolution: keep practicing conservation of resources and doing no harm, no matter what others around you may be practicing. Live with integrity and love with generosity.
Back in 1997, I self-published a book of poetry called The King’s Gift: Poems and Parables. It contained this one that I titled “Change”:
In autumn, the trees start to sing once again
of the bittersweet mystery of change. Is it beauty or pain now attached to my soul? Is it grief… …or relief… …or nostalgia? In the scarlet and gold, the blood-red of life’s hold on my heart and the warmth of its love mingles memories and years into afternoon tears falling softly …as leaves… …to the ground.
I feel this way every fall. The change in light makes everything seem altered and thrown back into the past — until my eyes adjust and my brain catches up. Then the brilliance of the season kicks in. I really love Fall for its ability to draw out a range of emotion and hold it, fully aware and unashamed, in its transient environment.
There’s no such thing as Time. It’s not a thing; it is a concept. It tries to explain why we see change, which is a thing.
This looks different!
This difference is a change. Why did it change? Because the tree fell. When did it fall? Ah, now we need a concept for that moment and for the changes since that moment.
This looks different. This is a change. Is it about the time? 47 years doesn’t mean much. The changes mean a lot. There was a man, a husband, a father, a singer. Now, there is no man, no husband, no father, no song.
What about this change?
It might look like a change from what you’re used to, but some people see this every day. No change; no time.
In order to feel a sense of time at all, we need to be able to imagine what something was like before and how it’s changed.
And then we try to measure the rate of change. How long did it take for this to become something different?
We humans get to think about change and time because we have such big, big brains. Other species don’t. That gives us a huge amount of responsibility. We should be taking that seriously, noticing changes and imagining what the future might be like.
In time, we’ll see what changes. And we’ll know how we’ve participated in that change as well.
What color is humility? What color is Pope Francis? What color is poverty? What color is racial injustice? What color is responsibility? What color is Noam Chomsky? What color is Bernie Sanders? What color is exploitation? What color is extinction? What color is cowardice? What color is love? What color is peace? What color is Thich Nhat Hahn? What color is health? What color is despair? What color is the sky? What color is Earth? What color am I?
Do you remember when your baby teeth fell out? Do you have any memories of being without central incisors, lisping and whistling when you spoke, unable to bite into an apple or an ear of corn? How much do you remember of the physical changes associated with your passage through puberty?
Would you ever choose to re-live those changes? (I imagine in response a loud chorus of ‘Noooo!’ and laughter.)
Why do we find change so awkward and uncomfortable? Why do we imagine a state of perfection achieved and unchanged, and why is that stasis desired? Consider this: change is natural; metamorphoses are observed and documented in every species — birth, maturation, reproduction, aging, death, decay, absorption, and birth. All around us there is a process of movement, going from one thing to another, losing some properties and gaining others. This is Life. It is dynamic; it is not good or bad; it is. Often, however, we decide we like where we are. We want to stay put. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. But we are, in fact, stuck, and it takes a great deal of energy to stay there, resisting the current of Life all around. We feel drained, exhausted, spent, sapped, worn out. We want to feel the flow of energy again, but in order to do that, we must make a change. Fear holds us back. This is a pivotal point of decision – we must choose Change to choose Life.
The Old Testament talks about having youth renewed like the eagles’, about mounting up with wings as eagles and being borne on the wings of an eagle. Golden eagles populated the Holy Land, and their lifespans were observable to the ancient poets. I have seen bald eagles in the wild on a few occasions now, but not before I was 45 years old. What do I know of an eagle’s life? I did a little research. Southwestern Bald Eagle Managementtold me “In their five year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird. During its first four weeks of life, an eaglet’s fluffy white down changes to a gray wooly down. At about five weeks, brown and black feathers begin to grow. It becomes fully feathered at 10 weeks of age. In its first year, the mostly dark-colored juvenile can often be mistaken as a golden eagle. However, the bald eagle progressively changes until it reaches adult plumage at five years. Notice in the pictures how its dark eye lightens throughout its first four years of life until it becomes yellow. Also, see how its beak changes from gray-black to a vibrant yellow. It is believed that the darker, more mottled plumage of a young eagle serves as camouflage, while the white head and tail announce that it is of breeding age.”
Renewal is for the purpose of maturity. It is not about going back to a juvenile state. It is about soaring with the movement of Life toward the next place of energy. It is not about resuscitation; it is about resurrection. We shall all be changed.
My daughter recommended to me a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The author is a medical doctor and a gerontologist. He tackles the real and practical implications of growing old and dying in this culture: nursing homes, DNR orders and advance directives, heroic life-saving surgeries, hospice and what it is to live with meaning and dignity. This book terrified me. I read it in small doses. It made me face denial and delusions head on. It was not a comfortable read, but I would recommend it to anyone. It puts Change in the forefront and invites you to get real. I would not have been able to read it 7 years ago, right after my husband died. I wasn’t ready. The book I read then that helped me to accept change was Pema Chodron’s book WhenThings Fall Apart (which I recently discovered is a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”).
Where are you in the flow of Life? Where are you stuck? What are you afraid of when you face Change? How have you embraced Maturity? How have you run from it? What images of Peace in harmony with Change are meaningful to you? These may be your symbols of Renewal. Here are a few of mine:
Pema Chodron writes in a book called “Comfortable With Uncertainty”:
According to the Buddha, the lives of all beings are marked by three characteristics: impermanence, egolessness, and suffering or dissatisfaction. Recognizing these qualities to be real and true in our own experience helps us to relax with things as they are. The first mark is impermanence. That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and changing, is the first mark of existence. We don’t have to be mystics or physicists to know this. Yet at the level of personal experience, we resist this basic fact. It means that life isn’t always going to go our way. It mean’s there’s loss as well as gain. And we don’t like that. …We experience impermanence at the every day level as frustration. We use our daily activity as a shield against the fundamental ambiguity of our situation, expending tremendous energy trying to ward off impermanence and death. …The Buddhist teachings aspire to set us free from this limited way of relating to impermanence. They encourage us to relax gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change.”
Much of my life and energy of the past 10 years has been spent trying to cope with change, as I watched my husband’s health deteriorate and my children grow from an innocent childhood into a difficult adulthood. Five years ago, my husband died at the age of 47. In my most agonizing moments of wrestling with impermanence, I would take myself for a walk. Two blocks from my house was a place I liked to call “my prairie”. It was a place where “relaxing gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change” came naturally. At that time, I’d never heard of Pema Chodron and knew very little about Buddhism. But I could see change all around as leaves turned color, decayed, and returned to the soil where new shoots would eventually spring. Cloud formations came and went, as did the warmth of the sun. Paths mown in the prairie grass grew indistinct and were redirected. Small animal carcases seemed to melt into a puddle of fur and bones until even those were carried off or disappeared. Change was constant and friendly, not the scary beast I was beating from my front door every day.
“My prairie” became a very special sanctuary to me. This is where I went on September 11, 2001 to think. This is where I went when I returned to my old neighborhood after moving in with Steve in 2011. This is where I will wander following the Bridal Shower my daughter’s best friend is throwing for her in June. I bring myself and all my changes into this sanctuary, and I feel immediately embraced by the bigger changes of the Universe in its course. All the impermanence, egolessness and suffering of my life seems to settle down into just What Is when I am here. I feel at peace. It is my pleasure to introduce you to my picture of Change…