“When you are finished changing, you are finished.” -Benjamin Franklin
“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” -Benjamin Disraeli
The Benjamins were right, weren’t they?
Some people are great at staying calm and unruffled even when being tossed about roughly on the sea of life. I am not one of them. Change is really difficult for me, even when it’s for good reasons. I inwardly howl like a child, mentally kicking, screaming, and holding on to the doorjamb until my fingernails break because I do not want things to change. Most of the time, though, there’s not much choice. The changes will happen, even if I squinch up my eyes and hold my breath.
I’ve tried, over the years, to cultivate a calmer attitude towards these redirections in life. Freaking out about them pretty much never helps, yet it’s a very hard habit to break. I dwell, obsess, stomp around, and rage against whatever it is before I eventually come to grudging acceptance. It is exhausting. Eventually, wrung out and spent, I find my zen and then the practical parts of me take over: planning, organizing, figuring out how to make it all work. Then, just when I’ve adjusted to things… blammo! More change! Argh! (Note: I am not building up to some huge life-change reveal, here. This is a more general sort of column.)
We had about two years to get used to the idea (as much as one can) that my husband would eventually have to undergo dialysis. I held it together as much as I could for Sem’s sake, because he didn’t need his still-relatively-fresh-off-the-rack wife to drift through the house like some kind of moaning spectre, but inside I keened with fear and dread. Sem, on the other hand, said, “It is an unpleasant reality, which we will have to deal with.” We made the most of those two years, and I tried not to think about how much life would change.
We did Sem’s peritoneal dialysis for four and a half years at home before he had to switch to hemodialysis. It was a change so swift and brutal that I hardly had time to think about it. All I could do was try to smooth Sem’s path somehow, and keep a protective watch over him during that terrible time. He had his hands full dealing with pain and shock and everything that went with it while I stumbled clumsily through those weeks, just trying to get my head around what was happening. I did a lot of inner flailing, wishing there was some way to resist this unwanted turn our life had suddenly taken. Of course there wasn’t.
When it became clear that we needed to move farther north to be closer to the hospital where Sem would be attending dialysis, there was more time to think about it, mainly because it took ages to find a suitable place to live. It was an unwelcome change in every single respect, except the one important matter of being close to the hospital. I yearned for our old life in our lovely wee village and for our sweet, small house and wonderful neighbors. I was angry about the situation, which was made even more frustrating because there was no one to be angry with; it was just what life had thrown at us. When we finally moved I saw all the changes that we would have to make, going from a house to an apartment, and I got even more upset, sulky, angry and depressed. I tried to hide it, probably not very successfully. I just wanted to go back to our formerly comfortable life, in our cozy little home. But you can’t wish away illness, and you can’t ignore change. Sem, meanwhile, embraced the move, making the most of an unwanted situation, as he is wont to do. I envied that mindset, even while continuing to begrudge the changes we’d had forced upon us. It really is very tiring to be me, sometimes!
In the three years since, we’ve settled in, of course. There are daily challenges, and life continues to throw curveballs at us like a hot new southpaw pitching for a major league team, but we take each day as it comes. As ever, for the most part, Sem faces changes and obstacles head-on in his stoic way. Sometimes it’s a matter of gritting his teeth and enduring, but he is typically the one who sees the good things in life, no matter what. He is more than just pragmatic, he is naturally more likely to see the positives than I am. Mind you, we can both get a good head of steam going about things that bother us, but he’s the first to appreciate an astounding sky, or enjoy the antics of the birds in our back garden. Sem rides the waves of change and looks around with interest at what’s happening all around him; I fight the tides and swim against them, tiring myself out until I have to accept defeat or drown. I want to find my way to the easier path, and not fight against inevitable changes; even somehow make friends with change, or at least find acceptance of it. It’s better to go with the flow rather than get knocked flat by it, right? I think it must be, but it is entirely against my nature.
I’ve felt it more than ever lately, in this strange and ever-evolving CoronaWorld in which we live. Sem and I have come to the conclusion that all we can do is keep ourselves safe, because there are so, so many people who seem to have decided not to change their behavior at all. That’s another thing about change: you can’t really force anyone into it. I could keep on snarling about inconsiderate neighbors who keep having visitors over even during lockdown… or I can accept that there’s nothing I can do about it. (I don’t want to accept it! Damn them!)
I don’t like that there are no Highland Games this year, and no farm shows. I miss going out to eat, even though we did so infrequently. It would be nice to drive down to our former village and see our friends there, or go to a store without getting anxious, or be able to fully open up our sales site again. It makes me really sad that all of these things have changed, and that life will remain this way for the foreseeable future. But I am trying hard to reconcile myself to it rather than stomp and pout and fret. (I’m so good at stomping, though!)
Here’s another well-known saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same. That is sometimes said ruefully but it’s also true that there are many good ‘constants’ even during an ever-changing life. Our back garden is filled with parent-birds busily feeding their clumsy, demanding fledglings as they do each year. The elderly neighbor on one side continues to tend his garden with surgical precision, and the old fella upstairs goes outside every sunny day and is always happy to have a chat in the warmth and sunshine. Sem and I have our challenges but our life together is filled with love and laughter. And that is the thing I would not change, for anything. Sometimes we have cross words, sometimes we have misunderstandings, but the one, constant, best thing in my life, is Sem. We have made a lot of changes for the sake of our beautiful life, and even though there have been changes which have grieved me, which I’ve fought against, which in some ways I will never fully get over, every single one has been worth it because of what we have. We are fortunate, even in these anxious, frightening times.
Life changes in ways both big and small, sometimes with a shout and other times a whisper, but our ever-present love for each other is an anchor, a safe harbor, and a soft landing, all in one. I figure as long as we have that, we can weather the ever-shifting storms of life, together… even if I never learn how to do it very gracefully.