“I heard the old, old men say, ‘Everything alters, And one by one we drop away.’
… I heard the old, old men say, ‘All that’s beautiful drifts away Like the waters.’ – WB Yeats
Most people don’t like change. They want to stay in the same comfortable place indefinitely, go to a time share vacation at Disney World every year or to the same beach to have the same experience they had last summer. Familiar and enjoyable, so why not do it again next year? And that’s why people buy time shares and beach cottages and permanent camp sites for their Airstream. There’s a lot to be said for the tried and true. Immersion for one: Really getting to know a place by going there often. I’ve really gotten to know a small corner of Buzzards Bay in this way, and find that I still don’t know it as well as I thought I did last time I visited. Yes, there’s clearly benefit in returning again and again.
But as Yeats points out, everything alters. I look at the neighborhood I live in that once had a roving pack of 50 kids riding bicycles and playing games in each other’s yards (a rare phenomenon in the last 20 years). All those kids are grown up and moved on. Some new families have moved in, I don’t really know their names, and have started raising the next generation of kids. Maybe someday the neighborhood will have those packs of kids playing again. I hope so – otherwise all that Halloween candy goes in my mouth.
In general I’m a big fan of change. I’ve changed jobs when it didn’t feel right staying at a place and longer. I moved primary residences ten times before settling on the place I currently live in, where I’ve been living for 21 years. But I’ve painted every room in this house a different color at least twice, and some four times. Change is part of the deal, whether we move or not. Embrace the changes that happen around us and adapt in ways that make it work for you. Nobody misses rotary phones, which made your finger numb when you had to dial a long number. Nobody misses the days when you had to go into a bank to make a deposit or withdrawal instead of using an app on your phone or Venmo to complete a transaction. Some change is good. Its progress – the progression of humanity from one stage to another in our technological development.
“I see my folks, they’re getting old
And I watch their bodies change
I know they see the same in me
And it makes us both feel strange
No matter how you tell yourself
It’s what we all go through
Those eyes are pretty hard to take
When they’re staring’ back at you”
– Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time
Then there’s the changes that happen with aging. The progression of decline in our bodies as we grow older. Aches and pains we didn’t have when we were kids. Seeing those around us again as well and recognizing the path we’re all on. I’ve got a heightened sense of awareness of this now more than ever. We’ve considered moving to a faraway place just to change things up a bit. Scotland, Iceland, the Azores, the Faroe Islands, Dominica and New Zealand all remain tantalizing places to relocate to for me. Sailing around the world sounds attractive when the world is open for business, but what do we leave behind when we slip away from the dock? I think a younger me might have made the leap had the younger me known the stakes. The me before kids, before aging parents, and such things. Now I’m not as sure. But aging doesn’t mean you have to break down quickly. Fitness is a way to stem the tide and live well in the time we have left.
All that’s beautiful drifts away, whether we like it or not. But its replaced by new beauty, if we only open our eyes to it. We’re all breathing in the dust of eternity, and exhale a part of ourselves back into the universe, which makes us all connected, really. All part of the timeless wave of humanity, surely, but also all matter. We all have our minds wrapped around our own mind and body, but we’re just matter and energy with a soul. The matter and energy move on in time. Beauty doesn’t disappear, it just moves on down the chain. We’re just links trying to jealously hold onto to it as long as possible. But the soul is ours alone, here today, but where will it be tomorrow? Time will tell. Anyone who tells you they have the answer is conning you.
My wife got a call from her mother yesterday, telling her the bad news about one of their neighbor’s kids who has cancer all over their body and isn’t expected to live more than another 18 months. I suppose that got me thinking about old Mr. Yeats and his poem. We’re all drifting away eventually, and sometimes much sooner than we’d prefer. A good reminder to get on with living already, changes and all. Life is more than a weekly paycheck and a house with a pool in the backyard and a familiar spot on the beach every summer. Life is about making the most of ourselves in the time we have left. Live beautifully alive, changes and all.