“You’ve changed,” he said, with nervous laughter. I said, “I’ve been getting that a lot lately.” I smiled.
I was catching up with an old friend. The kind of old friend who is a mirror to the part of you that you only reserve for a select few; the kind of friend who shows you how far you’ve come and how far you still have to go. We chatted that afternoon in an airport coffee shop for four hours, catching up on two years, before he had to catch a flight again. Old friends are wonderful like that; we knew each other again instantly.
Whenever people tell us that we’ve changed or that we’re changing, there is a tendency to wonder whether we are changing for better or for worse. Because change isn’t usually only about bringing in new things, it’s often about leaving old ones behind too. And sometimes the things we leave behind aren’t things, they’re people. And it’s tough to find yourself losing sight of the people who you thought knew you best. Or perhaps, they’re losing sight of you. Either way the vision is not so clear anymore. And everyone knows it.
I have vocations – in writing, in teaching, in studying, in serving – that often cause me to reflect. Sometimes I feel like part of my “job” is to look at all that is around me and simply reflect. What are the relationships between things? What is the distance between what is going on in the here and now, and what will happen tomorrow? What is my relationship to everything and everyone? The thing about reflection is you often walk away with few answers, and many questions. And ever so often, a little confusion. Or a lot.
But confusion isn’t always a bad thing. I like to think of it as the preemptive stop before clarity, or at least before choice. If we’d all be a little more honest, or maybe not honest but self-aware, we’d admit that we’re often more confused than we ‘re not. The best of us, I think, are just courageous about our confusion; and above all, willing to be wrong in our courage. Still, when one can get beyond the need for sense-making, beautiful things can come to pass, like a state of life that feels like art.
To change, I think, is necessary. And not just because we are sinners and are in need of the struggle to be better every day. Or because we are human and face the unpredictability of life from time to time. But in a life where we meet different people, survive different tragedies, encounter extraordinary love, and have the capacity to transform even the most insignificant moments into moments of greatness – to stay the same in spite of all this, would be heartbreaking.
Sometimes it feels like we’re not allowed to change, for fear of what others will think or say or do. It feels like once we’ve showed ourselves to be one thing, then we’re imprisoned by that thing. But we must believe otherwise in order to become our destiny. And change is hard work – it is ruthless and taxing and many times, unwelcome. But then in one moment of great strength, when you decide to not hold onto everything so tightly, it happens. And in that moment you know; you know that you can’t go back to what you were.
I told my friend before he left, “I have changed. I certainly hope I’m not working this hard so I can stay the same.” He smiled back knowingly. And the mirror that looked back at me in his face, told me I was doing more than okay.