The Biggest Change

“The biggest change we are likely to know is when old age, sickness, or death comes knocking at our door, or at the door of someone close to us. This shouldn’t be, we think. This can’t be. Even though we know conceptually that our life has an end-by date, even though we know that people lose limbs every day, get sick every day, die every day – even so, disbelief is the most common first response to a sudden change in our faculties. It’s always a shock when the body or mind we have been so used to as a more or less willing servant decides to go on strike either for a while or for good.”

     “Change is the only constant” is a truism, it is the way things are, it is the way life is. In fact, change is so constant that we usually take it for granted and do not even realize it’s happening; because change is a constant, and because it is often subtle, our awareness if it is likely to be faint at best.

     But then there are the “big changes,” the ones that can leave us reeling from their significance, from their ability to rearrange the course of our life forever. Poet Roger Housden claims that old age, sickness, and death are the type of events that qualify as industrial size changes, the variety that we often meet with stunned disbelief.   

     We know that the ominous trinity of those occurrences is a given. We know that eventually we will not only experience them, but that we will succumb to their power to undo us. Trying to outrun such changes is futile, but are we to merely give up and give into their inevitability? In his poem “The Guest House” Muslim mystic Jelaladin Rumi suggests that we “meet them at the door laughing,” that we welcome rather than resist their reality.

     Like so many prophets of old, Jesus, the Buddha, Moses, and Mohammed among them, Rumi was both wise and wild, counterintuitive and countercultural. Yes, the physical realities of old age, sickness, and death will claim us, but we have a choice as to how we meet those dark shouters. Laughter may be a bit of a stretch, but what can enable us to go with the flow of unwanted changes is having a mind and heart open to the truth that we are temporary guests on this earth in temporary bodies. We are more than we know – we are body and soul. When we nurture our awareness of the latter, showering it with generous portions of silence and solitude, we become better able to accept adversity, or at least less likely to be thrown when our own or a loved one’s “end-by” date arrives.

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