March 2009 found me fearful of the coming spring. On March 4th, I’d had a horrific nightmare from which I woke up shivering. The dream had a threatening quality to it — like death. And although I kept telling myself not to worry, worry was exactly my emotional state. I suppose I could call it a psychic experience, that presence in the air, that disquiet that says one is about to experience a major change. I felt that the threat was real, and as it turned out, it was.
I’d been struggling with the idea of writing about food, how I learned to cook, and the place food holds in my life’s pantry of broken romances, half-finished musical pieces, and unresolved family issues. Then I received the phone call. My youngest brother had died. It was March 5th.
My brother’s death was a tragedy, not because he was a great writer whose dreams were not completely fulfilled, although that was a part of it. His death was a tragedy because of the fractured way we sometimes communicate in our family, and the way we resist change. We have never really been strong, in my view, with folks being different, with folks choosing different paths, with others being happy outside the status quo. In other words, in my view, I am part of a people who, on several occasions, have not embraced change gracefully, and I have to admit, this was a change I was not ready to embrace — gracefully.
Change. I’ve moved from coast to coast—twice. I’ve traveled by bus across the country. I’ve met folks in Appalachia, Utah, the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, the Southeast, New York, California, and more. I’ve demonstrated against the Klan, sang at the funeral of a friend’s husband, worked with a teenager who mutilated herself, and lived with a man who did not have a clue about the woman he thought he wanted to marry. All of this change, and still, I fight Change like a boxer. Why?
Perhaps, it’s because I’m so resistant to change that God seems to give me so much of it. After all, the drama, trauma, and psycho – physical manipulation of living is transformative. And as another brother likes to say “consider the alternative.”
One thing that has not changed, and never will for me, is my belief in the common heart of every human being. With all of the political wrangling, fear mongering, and religious battering, it’s easy to become cynical and reject the sweet flavors of life. It’s easy to become terrorized by change. It is easy to reject the heart, the emotion, the muscle of good love, and the tenderness of life when one is resisting change. But then comes death, and change opens the door to a floodgate of feelings, and change will, no, must be accepted.
Change nudges me to gratitude.
Change, operating in the amorphous sphere called “out of my control,” can boot me into that cesspool of “settling for.” Don’t move. Don’t act. Just sit and wait, and nothing will change. But really, things don’t work that way.
To refuse change is to refuse transformation, and to refuse transformation is to not know gratitude.
My mother once called me a gypsy. The need to see more, meet more folks, taste new foods, and walk barefoot in the freezing Pacific keeps me on the move. The need to live fully generates lots of change. And sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. But the one thing I know, and I know, and I know, and I know is that without change, there is no space for gratitude. And to experience gratitude, I will have to live with change.
I was spellbound and moved in a way that I have rarely experienced since. I watched as an enormous black ball of hair emerged from my sister’s body. I kept asking, “Where is the baby?” And then, there she was. My sister’s daughter, my niece.
The ball of hair still exists, hanging to her waist, but she’s a high-powered young professional now; doing well, living well, and flourishing. Change.