May 30, 2009

Don't Fight the Tide, Come Along for the Ride

I've started a little experiment, inspired by a book I've read recently. Whether I will blog about it is yet to be seen, but I wanted to share a few thoughts on the subject.

When I was a kid, my older sister used to love watching an episode of the Brady Bunch after school while we snacked on crackers or pickles. As I was thinking about and planning my experiment, I remembered this episode, where Peter's voice starts to change. Unfortunately for the Bradys, it comes at a bad time because the kids had just begun to record their album, and Peter's fluctuating vocal chords were ruining their songs. But then, to the rescue, a new cheesey song is written just for the occasion of Peter's puberty, and it gets stuck in my head. Remember the words? When it's time to change you've got to rearrange, who you are and what you're gonna be. Enjoy the clip. =)

We all hate the idea of change—every one of us if you think about it. Sure, some deal with it better than others and sometimes it can be exciting, but it's always a somewhat painful process, fraught with anxiety and fear and sadness as you wave goodbye to a closed chapter and reluctantly head toward the looming new one. Even though happy and hopeful optimism awaits, the transitions are still difficult, although admittedly certain things are harder than others and of varying degrees for different people.

We are creatures of habit from the moment we are born. We get used to life being a certain way, ourselves being a certain way, and when those things change, whether or not by our control, it's an adjustment. An ice-water wave hits you right in the face, causing our inner comfort to gasp in shock. And it's hard to imagine life in a different way, ourselves in a different way, than it has always been up to that point. And then, when the tide shifts and the next change washes over, it happens all over again.

The only thing constant is change.
(Well put, by several philosophers starting in ca. 400 BC.)

Recently, I finished Eat Pray Love by Liz Gilbert, which is a book about her journey of self-discovery, or, in other words, chronicles of how she recuperated after the biggest wave to hit her system in her life came crashing down over her head. Change—in its worst form. Now, I'm not going to talk about what sort of change that was or whether it was self-inflicted or whether Liz is snobby or self-centered. These things don't concern me. What does interest me is her ability to repair those affects of change on her system and how to emerge—albeit scathed—but better for it. And not just her ability, but that ability which we all possess: to define our lives and ourselves on an ever-changing basis. To find stability among the shifting tide and strong undercurrents. Since this change thing ain't goin' away, I guess I better learn to cope with it, right? And not only cope, but triumph maybe. I like the sound of that.

I particularly liked this passage, and I know it's long, but I hope you will read it. Here she's describing a place she liked to visit while on her trip to Italy. It really struck a chord in my own little many-times-splashed soul:

"This big, round, ruined pile of brick started life as a glorious mausoleum, built by Octavian Augustus to house his remains and the remains of his family for all of eternity. It must have been impossible for the emperor to have imagined at the time that Rome would ever be anything but a mighty Augustus-worshipping empire. How could he possibly have foreseen the collapse of the realm? Or known that, with all the aqueducts destroyed by barbarians and with the great roads left in ruin, the city would empty of citizens, and it would take almost twenty centuries before Rome ever recovered the population she had boasted during her height of glory?

Augustus’s mausoleum fell to ruins and thieves during the Dark Ages. Somebody stole the emperor’s ashes—no telling who. By the twelfth century, though, the monument had been renovated into a fortress for the powerful Colonna family, to protect them from assaults by various warring princes. Then the Augusteum was transformed somehow into a vineyard, then a Renaissance garden, then a bullring (we’re in the eighteenth century now), then a fireworks depository, then a concert hall. In the 1930s, Mussolini seized the property and restored it down to its classical foundations, so that it could someday be the final resting place for his remains. (Again, it must have been impossible back then to imagine that Rome could ever be anything but a Mussolini-worshipping empire.) Of course, Mussolini’s fascist dream did not last, nor did he get the imperial burial he’d anticipated.

Today the Augusteum is one of the quietest and loneliest places in Rome, buried deep in the ground. The city has grown up around it over the centuries. (One inch a year is the general rule of thumb for the accumulation of time’s debris.) Traffic above the monument spins in a hectic circle, and nobody ever goes down there—from what I can tell—except to use the place as a public bathroom. But the building still exists, holding its Roman ground with dignity, waiting for its next incarnation.

I find the endurance of the Augusteum so reassuring, that this structure has had such an erratic career, yet always adjusted to the particular wildness of the times. To me, the Augusteum is like a person who’s led a totally crazy life—who maybe started out as a housewife, then unexpectedly became a widow, then took up fan-dancing to make money, ended up somehow as the first female dentist in outer space, and then tried her hand at national politics—yet who has managed to hold an intact sense of herself throughout every upheaval.

I look at the Augusteum, and I think that perhaps my life has not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bringing changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated. The Augusteum warns me not to get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday I might have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough—but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository. Even in the Eternal City, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation."

Isn't it amazing how resilient human beings are? How, with a little bit of will power and a strong resolve, we can choose to power down and reset our inner machinery? I think it's absolutely amazing how we can continue to change, to grow, to morph, to invent and re-invent who we will be and what our lives will mean.

Just as with this area in Italy, these changes will not always be for the better. No, unfortunately no. A person cannot always be on top of the game. But there's always another day. As Anne Shirley would say: "Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it." It's fresh and clean and waiting. It's never too early or too late to start. And no matter how much we want to hold on to a perfect moment in our lives, it will leave. It will recede with the tide and be carried out to sea. Fighting against that change will only make you tired and frustrated. So, don't fight the tide and go along with the ride. See who you are and what you're gonna be.


1 comment:

Gini+Eric said...