Well, October has arrived and it’s raining here in Pennsylvania. The remnants of the hurricane that devastated Florida earlier in the week are washing across the northeast, bringing some badly needed rain to the area following a very dry summer.
Is it terrible to be thankful at a time when so many others are suffering? I assuage my guilt by making a donation to the American Red Cross in support of its work to bring disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Ian. A good friend is down in Florida right now helping with those Red Cross efforts. She’s a saint and a constant reminder to me of the essential goodness of the human spirit.
At any rate, I’m rather glad that September is over. Oddly, I’ve never been a big fan of September. Maybe it’s from memories of having to go back to school this month. Or maybe it’s because September is a transitional month and I’ve never been particularly good at handing change.
At least when I was younger, that was the case. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a lot more relaxed about everything. You have to, I think, if you want to get through life intact.
“Go with the flow,” my paternal grandmother told me more than three decades ago as she lay on her deathbed. “You can’t fight the tide.”
I’m not sure why she told me this. Perhaps it was because she knew of the turmoil I was going through back then as I was trying to master my turbulent inner world.
Whatever the reason, it was great advice that I would have been wise to heed when I was young and in the habit of fighting any tide or current that came my way.
Why was I so resistant to change when I was younger? I wonder. I suspect it had to do with the fact that I was so blissfully happy for the first twenty or so years of my life. I was blessed to have grown up as part of a close-knit family on a six-acre farmette populated by horses, dogs, cats, and plenty of woods and fields to roam. While we didn’t have much money, we had two parents who were always present and everything else you could possibly want or need to be happy.
When you have an idyllic childhood like that, you don’t want it to ever change. Add in the fact that I had twelve years of Catholic education and by the time I stepped out of my protected cocoon into the stream of life, I had a belief system set in concrete.
I remember, as a teenager, lying on my bed listening to the words of “Across the Universe” by the Beatles. For me, an aspiring writer and someone with rigid ideals about how the world should work, the lyrics held a mirror up to my feelings—
“Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup. They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe … Nothing’s gonna change my world. Nothing’s gonna change my world.”
Well, guess what—life was about to change my world, and it did. Relationship issues, health problems, family problems, career disappointments. Life has a way of throwing rocks that chip away at the hard edges of our ideals. We learn the hard way that the stuff of the head is not real and often not very helpful in bringing us peace amidst the strife. So we learn to bend, to adapt, to go with the flow.
Or else we don’t learn, and life becomes a constant struggle against the current, like a salmon working its way upstream.
Hardest of all are the losses. Not just losing loved ones, but losing dreams. One of my dreams, for example, was to give my children the secure, loving nuclear family that I experienced growing up. But, alas, divorce ended that dream. It took me years to forgive myself for that failure and accept the reality that I could still give my children a secure, happy childhood without holding myself up to a standard that only existed in my head.
Dreams are wonderful. Ideals are important. But they’re not real. If they were real, we could touch them, feel them, smell them, hear them. Rocks are real, and they hurt.
That doesn’t mean we don’t set goals and go after them, or fight for causes that are important to us, or resist wrongs and injustices, as the people in Ukraine are now currently doing. Because we live in an imperfect world where things are always changing, we can expect to be setting goals and fighting for causes our entire lives. That’s what gives life meaning and purpose.
But we do so flexibly. We are willing to adjust our goals and our methods along the way as we run into the hard edges of reality. We avoid setting hard timetables for things. We find meaning not in the achievement of the goal, but in the striving toward it.
Most of all, we are gentle on ourselves, recognizing that we are human and doing the best we can.
The paradox, I’ve found, is that the less we resist the fundamental fluid nature of reality, the more effective we are at effecting change in the things that matter. That’s when a whole world of possibilities opens up and life moves from being a daily slog to a thrilling ride through the rapids.
Go with the flow!
Thank you, Nana, for the advice that has held me in good stead all these years.
May your week be filled with blessings and peace.