Let’s talk about change, which is to say let’s talk about life, because that is what life truly is—a never ending cycle of inevitable change.
Beautiful, ugly, wonderful, terrible, slow, sudden, inevitable, personal, impossible, and inexorable change.
These thoughts I’m going to share with you are not wholly unique, and you’ve likely seen these revelations elsewhere. In fact, you’ve probably heard many of them so many times that you can no longer count, so many times that they have become a part of your subconscious. Some of these ideas or thoughts you will be able to finish without having to actively think about it they have become so intrinsic to our lives.
Which is funny in a way, because so many times I’ve failed to ever internalize or listen to words I had heard a thousand times, words that I’ve always accepted as truth, but never actually given any real thought.
I’ve come to find, that is one of the greatest cruelties of life that the older you become the more wise you should become as you endure hardships and have to fight your way through what those hardships mean. Yet, just as we once did when young, those with the most life to live and the most to gain from the wisdom refuse to take it–cannot often take it, in fact, because they must make the mistakes themselves to truly internalize and understand.
So you’ll humor me as I ramble about something I’ve come to realize is the most important thing you can ever learn and apply to your life, something I still struggle with every day. It is a truth that, like most things in life, I already knew to be true, but didn’t care to actually investigate. This last year and a handful of months since the death of my father has meant an immense amount of introspective thought, a lot of trying to figure out life all over again. In a lot of ways it is the first time I ever really had to grow up. Not in the traditional way of course, I’m plenty responsible though the video games, random chunks of plastic, and childish way I can engage with the world might make others think that isn’t entirely true. I’m talking about a growth that is more from a loss of a certain type of innocence, and enduring what I’ve come to realize is the first real hardship I’ve ever endured.
That most important thing I’ve come to learn about life is that change—both terrible and wonderful–is the very essence of life, and that embracing change by rejoicing in even the most mundane of your present moments is the only way you will ever live a happy life.
I told you this wouldn’t be ground breaking thought, but perhaps in rambling on to you in the way which I organize my thoughts might help just one other person out there in the world get it. Maybe, even if no other person reads this, writing this down is a way of making it something more real to me—a memento of an important understanding reached.
When we are young it is like we have a bank account with ten thousand dollars in it. We want for nothing so much as some ten dollar toy, so to us that money might as well be infinite. The older amongst us will warn us that the money will disappear, that using it without serious regard can be foolish, but because we are young we do not listen. Sure, we know by simple math and logic that this money cannot be infinite, but we have no real experience in this regard and so we can’t possibly internalize that wisdom.
Years are the dollars in this case, and it is so easy for them to be errantly spent in the pursuit of the next big thing. As a child those things seemed more simple, but they are the same as they are today. I always spent time waiting for the next birthday, Christmas, big purchase, new toy, new car, new job, the next vacation—pretty much anything that would break up the mundane, everyday pieces of life. Those mundane moments slip away as days, weeks, and months fly by with our eye ever on the future. On what the next big moment is.
Nowhere is this idea of life is change crystallized more than being a parent. You’ll constantly hear the sentiment of “they grow up so fast” to the point of it being a cliché saying, but there is a reason it is so prevalent of a sentiment—it is entirely true. Children are the embodiment of change at a young age because they go through several stages so quickly. As adults we move through stages of our lives slowly, sometimes it can take chunks of 5 or 10 years for big changes to our lives to manifest, but with children it is constant and on top of that we can physically see them changing. It makes that change far more real, makes time feel like it is slipping away at an ever increasing rate.
I read a poem a few years ago when it was shared on Facebook, and I try to constantly think about this poem when I’m spending time with my children during a random weekday. You can read the poem here (as good a link as any since the author is not mentioned), but the gist of the piece is that you will have a last time for everything and rarely ever know it is the last time. Your child will run to you one day with their arms outstretched, and it’ll never happen again, but you won’t even realize it until later.
It is not only applicable to children, but to all of life. Our lives are so busy and they move by so quickly that we often don’t know the moments we are having will never happen again, until they don’t. Whether it is something as simple as your favorite restaurant that closes, a changing tradition within your family, or even something as sudden and life altering as the death of a loved one these moments can never come again. You can try to force them back into place, try and recreate the memories by recreating as much of the environment that they took place in as you can, but they never will happen again in the way that you recall.
It is this sense of sudden and irreparable change that struck when Dad died. Not only was I sad for the loss of his life, but I was confused and adrift. I didn’t understand how to live with grief or what it would do to my life. Every moment after was like an empty husk of what it had been and I felt like I would never have a happy memory again. Yet I have, and I do all of the time, but they are never quite possessed of the same innocence they once were. Something has shifted within me permanently and settled down into my heart, not a sadness, but rather a realization of the idea that things can never and will never be the same again. That doesn’t mean that it is worse always, just that it is different.
Even when we move on with our live in positive manners–when we land a new job, or when you are excitedly moving away from home as a teenager for the first time—there are changes we don’t recognize that will happen. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes they aren’t, but we typically don’t realize until later in life when it is too late. You’ll never realize the mundane events you will look back on with fondness and miss, and though you might try and recreate them they will never be the same, because you will never be the same. Life is a constantly flowing river in one direction, and whether you seek to look inward and change things about yourself or not, you WILL change. That quote about people never changing has never made sense to me, because how can you not? We are constantly touched by events, tragic and uplifting, and our lives constantly collide and part from so many people that leave imprints upon us–how can you not be forever changed with the passing of time?
It is then so imperative that we reach out to the world around us, on this random weekday, and engage with it in every way we can. Perhaps it is cliché and silly to reiterate for you to treasure the present, but that is exactly what I’m saying to you. The moments I remember most fondly with my father were not from theme parks or large extravagant events—though they were inevitably awesome also. Instead it is the moments we sat around in the living room, sunlight filtering through the window panes of our living room, as Dad played old country songs in the background and sang. In the times I miss him most I can sit down with my children, and put those songs on, and it is almost as if just out of earshot—if I would just focus closely enough—I can hear him singing.
These are the moments that make up our lives, these are the moments we let pass by us every day waiting for something bigger and better. Even as I sit here today I am guilty of it, waiting for a vacation weeks away and dismissing this evening because it is only a weekday night, or maybe vowing I’ll start loving my life AFTER I lose the weight I’ve been struggling with for most of my life. There are a million more eloquent quotes out there than what I can provide to you, a ton of wisdom about living in the now that is written by far more important people—listen to them, or listen to me, just listen.
I’ve spent so much of my life anxious of a future I couldn’t control, worried about what might come. At the same time I’ve spent that life desperately trying to hold onto the past while also regretting it, to recreate it and measure every new moment against it to see which might be better. That is folly, in every way, because ultimately even if everything is the same we can never have the same things as we did yesterday. Today will never, ever, happen again in your life—events will never fall in the same way as they do today no matter how much they seem to. Tomorrow you’ll wake up–fate willing–and you’ll brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, and head off on your normal routine. You’ll drive to work yelling at the traffic, you’ll have lunch at the same time, you’ll leave work at the same time, and you’ll drive home at the same time. This might trick you into believing today is the same as yesterday, and tomorrow will be the same as it. It is this blurring together of time, this melding of mundane events that seeks to rob you of your time, that seeks to turn you into an old man or woman looking back on the rose colored days of yesterday.
Losing Dad has meant coming to a hard realization in accepting that change happens, that I have no control over the future and can only learn from the past, but that I can drive every moment of my current destiny. I can shape what today brings, I can try and live in the present—mindful of what came before and planning for what comes next, but not letting it define who I am or distract me from the small wonders I move by so quickly day to day.
I’m going to do my best to live today like it is the last one I’ll ever get. I’m going to love, let myself be loved, cry, laugh, and experience my life as if this day will never ever happen again.
Because it won’t.