Some people adore change. They embrace it. They find it exhilarating. They love to mix things up, add elements and remove bits, expand and refine, in a passionate swirl of experiences that are never the same twice.
And then, there are people like me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not anti-change. Change can be good. It can mean growth and insight, seeing truths from new angles. Staying open to the possible.
On the other hand, change merely for the sake of change is just plain stupid.
Take breakfast. Every so often, I see an article about all sorts of fantastic new recipes we can try for breakfast. I always wonder what world those authors live in. In real life, breakfast is not a time to experiment with exotic menus that will open your taste buds to a brave new flavor experience. It’s breakfast, for crying out loud. Most of us throw something together while getting ready for work, which means there will be no freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice, kiwi-and-pomegranate salads, or omelettes with fine herbes and avocado spread for us. We’ll toss a bagel or English muffin into the toaster oven while the tea steeps, and in the time it takes to toast, we’ll slap on makeup, feed the cats, and find the other black shoe. If there are school-aged children in the house, God help everybody, because breakfast will be poured out of a box and into a bowl, with milk splashed on it and the bowl shoved across the table to the nearest kid while we hunt up the missing homework, the other shoe, and the permission slip for that field trip we forgot all about. Some folks forgo the entire breakfast-at-home thing entirely, subsisting on coffee and an egg sandwich with a hash-brown patty from the drive-thru.
But I digress.
It may be that I don’t have enough experience with change. For example, getting married is a huge change; so is getting a divorce. I haven’t done either, but some people think one or both these are good things, although I suspect it depends in very large part on who you’re marrying or divorcing. Having a child is an even bigger change, or so I hear. So, maybe if I’d married and had a kid or two and gotten divorced, I’d be one of those people who is totally blasé about change. When you’ve survived all those things, you probably don’t give a crap what you’re having for breakfast anyway.
In my defense, I’ve made plenty of changes. I’ve changed careers a fair number of times, from teacher to secretary to admin to secretary to paralegal to law clerk to lawyer to writer to researcher to writer to lawyer. I’ve moved from apartment to apartment, eventually to a house, then to a hotel, and finally back to the house after the restoration people finished all the post-fire stuff. When we were repainting after the fire, I changed wall color in the living room, the front hall, and the bathroom. (I didn’t change the bedroom or the office. I mean, let’s not go crazy.) This meant getting new draperies for the living room and a new shower curtain for the bathroom. So don’t tell me I can’t change, because my living room walls are blue now and they never used to be.
The changes I really, really dislike are the ones where I don’t get any say in the matter. (For the record: I am not a control freak. To quote that great and underrated philosopher, Sally Albright, “I just want it the way I want it.”) For example, aging. Last week, I sat with my parents in a neurologist’s office, because Mom is worried about how she sometimes can’t remember names or retrieve words. Mind you, she’s eighty-four years old, and she had a stroke about ten years ago. Still, she does everything the articles say you should do to keep your mind sharp: she reads voraciously (newspapers as well as mysteries), and she works all sorts of puzzles—jigsaw, crossword, jumble, and any other word puzzles she can find. The APRN doing the evaluation offered the opinion that it was simply normal aging; if she said, “After all, you’re eighty-four,” once, she said it four times.
Age is the harbinger of change. Next year, I’ll turn sixty, which sounds incredibly old even though I don’t feel old. (Two days ago, a forty-one-year-old woman told me she thought I was her age. She immediately became my official Favorite Person of the Week.) I know sixty is the new forty, and forty is the new twenty-five, and twenty-five-year-olds are practically zygotes. But these days, I find myself constantly evaluating my plans, assessing the next ten years, the next twenty, trying to best position myself for the changes these years will bring. Will I change jobs? Will I sell my book? Will I be able to age in place? Should I be planning for long-term health care? Am I missing my life, my right-now life, by focusing on a future that might not come at all if I get run over by a bus this afternoon?
Part of adulthood, I think, involves remaking yourself periodically. Some people remake themselves as spouse, parent, divorcée. Others remake themselves professionally, moving up the corporate ladder or changing careers entirely. Some people go back and forth, as in the case of a lawyer I know who chucked it all to become a pastry chef, only to return to the law years later after she’d found out the hard way that it’s pretty much impossible to live on a pastry chef’s wages. Some folks go back to school. Others relocate. On smaller scales, they buy sports cars, try new hairstyles, experiment with new religions or viewpoints or politics.
On the other hand, there are things that should never change, and we have to know what they are so we don’t screw up the good stuff.
For me, it’s my rocker-recliner.
J.C. Penney, 1987. $296, plus tax. I wouldn’t have chosen velour, but it was only the third piece of furniture I’d purchased in my entire life. The first was a bed, and the second was a blue-and-white windowpane sofa that I loved the minute I saw it, just as it was in the store. Young and clueless, I thought my choices were whatever was on the floor. The salesperson never said I could order a different fabric, and it never occurred to me to ask. And so, I selected the beige-and-white pin-dot velour.
It is The Perfect Chair.
It’s oversized and soft and welcoming. You can rock, or you can stretch out. You can read, work, nap, watch television, or gaze at the fireplace, all in perfect comfort. It embraces you without smothering, even on a hot day. It’s the chair everyone gravitates to when they walk into my living room. When you’ve had a rough day, there’s no better place to curl up, with or without a friend.
When I lived in an apartment in the north part of town, I noticed a spot of black grease on the top tier one day. I couldn’t think how it had gotten there. Much later—shortly before I moved out—one of the maintenance guys confessed that when I was at work, he sometimes went into my apartment and sat in that chair. (If I ever needed a reason not to live in an apartment complex, that was it.)
Sure, the fabric is worn. It’s split in the back. A tiny hole developed in the seat. There are a few other small holes, courtesy of movers and/or cat claws. But for the most part, it’s worn like iron. I’ve eaten countless meals in that chair, spilled water and wine and tea on it, and you’d never know it. And don’t even get me started about the number of times a cat has barfed on it, and it’s cleaned right up with nary a mark. Considering everything, I think that chair is doing okay.
I’ve thought about having it reupholstered, but it wouldn’t be the same. It couldn’t be. Thirty-two years of use have an effect on the structure–it’s impossible that they wouldn’t. And the new fabric–what if I can’t find something as soft, and yet as durable? What if it no longer feels like sitting inside a massive hug? And what if the cats decide the new fabric is terrific to claw, and it ends up looking crummy in six months so that all the money I just spent on reupholstering is about to go to waste because I’ll need to buy a slipcover, except that I still haven’t found a slipcover that could do this chair justice?
Sometimes, change is good. Other times, the best thing to do is to leave well enough alone.
Wisdom is knowing the difference.