Monday, August 25, 2014

It's funny how things tend to move full-circle.

Things I thought I'd lost forever have a way of coming back into my life in a slow spiral-descent. It makes me wonder if we've ever really lost anything, or if we're simply growing, so that when they come back around, we'll be ready to fully appreciate them.

There were things about my childhood that I took for granted in the moment - the simple things that didn't seem particularly meaningful or profound to a 7 year old girl at the time of their occurrence. But, now, looking back through the lens and perspective of adulthood, I am intensely aware of how these small things worked together to shape me. These are the memories I recall, not just like a flat, two-dimensional movie of my past, but as flashes of color and light and heat. They have seared my mind and heart.

We grew up like wild things: running and whooping through the woods behind the house. We skated over fallen logs which formed natural bridges for us over the deep ravines carved by overflow from the creek where we'd walk. We'd drag limbs to form rough floor plans of "play houses" in the deep quiet of the towering pines and red clay. We hunted for stick bugs and snapping bugs and Junebugs. 

The best place to find Junebugs was on the grapevine in my granddaddy's back yard. All summer long, even into the heaviness of the late August heat, we'd scour the big grape leaves for their peacock-metallic shells. While we were digging, we'd nibble the grapes off the vine like the deer that sometimes came down at dusk from the hills and the trees. But these grapes were not like the store-bought grapes. With skins so deep an indigo they were almost black, they hid the inner sweetness that was the same bottle-green color of the antique glass my Granddad kept in his workshop. You never just popped them into your mouth. The outer skin was tough and sour. It had a cloudy aspect, so the vine caught your fingerprints as you'd pick them - like a barter with Nature for what she chose to share. If we wanted them, we kids had to leave a piece of ourselves there, tied up with the vine. The deal was closed with our fingerprints lined onto the grape skins warmed by the sun and our dusty hands. Then we'd squeeze the shells and pop them into our mouths like hot marbles. We'd toss the empty shell at the base of the vine, where it would grow our next batch of fruit.

That grapevine has come to symbolize much to me: my childhood, my roots, my family, the simplicity of a time long-gone. It was the sensation of hot work, satisfaction, and peace in the moment. Although we moved away from my grandpa's property when I was young, the middle of my third grade year, that time has woven itself through my veins. It rooted in my heart. And as I have grown, it has become the skeleton I'm built upon. My dusky, indigo childhood is the deepest part of me.

I moved away from home for the first time at 34 years old. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. No family, no roots, no familiar mountains or trails to remind me who I am. For a year and a half, I lived away from this place that made me. I learned that I am capable; I am strong; I am adventurous, but not as much as I should be. Most of all, I learned the roots of who I am are not tied to a piece of ground. They are bound to my soul. In the midst of the unfamiliar, I remembered who I was and met who I have become. She is someone I would want to know. I think she would make me a good friend.

I moved back a year and a half later to a house I'd always admired but never thought would be my home. In the backyard, I found grapevines, and I almost cried when I saw them. It was somehow reverent. It was as though the summer days and hot, sour grapes of my childhood were handed back to me with a note saying, "Remember these always. Value the person they've made you to be. Teach the lessons they taught you to your daughters, and know they will carry their roots in their souls when the time comes for them to spread their wings."

And so I decided to deliberate on the lessons they taught:

  • Appearances are tricky.
  • Life mixes the bitter and the sweet. Appreciate both, for we need them both to grow.
  • Hard work brings a sense of accomplishment.
  • Simplicity is beautiful.
  • We carry home inside us.
  • Roots are meant to grow early, so they can run deep and strong.
  • We leave our imprint on this earth. Be a good steward.
  • Thank God and Nature for their providence.
  • Grapevines are always the best places to find Junebugs.
I am so thankful things sometimes come around a second time.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Keep the Change?

There's an old song by Sam Cooke which says "I know a change gon' come."

This song speaks to me intimately of my mindset for the past several years. Changes, big changes, have moved in on my life. For the most part, these changes have been incredibly positive. I can honestly say my life is in an infinitely better place today than one year ago.

It is no wonder then, given the manifested changes in my life, coupled with the nature of my job, that I have been considering the nature of change for a while now. When I say considering, I am referring to the act of dissecting change in my life and in the universe, over all. It was through the course of these internal dialogues I have wound up challenging my own beliefs about what change is, how it does and should operate,  and what it means for me.

For many years, change was a monster--something to be feared. Sharp, pointy teeth and vicious claws waited to tear me apart. This ravenous beast named Change would devour who I was and what I held important. It should be avoided, in the best of circumstances. It should be terminated with extreme prejudice whenever possible.

This was an attitude of fear & impotence.

But then, through a lot of reflection, I experienced a paradigm shift.

I came to decide change was a painful necessity. I understood, now, the constant nature of change. It is often the only thing on which we can depend--the knowledge that our lives today will morph in some ways to become something else. Sometimes this happens in a day; sometimes it creeps up on us over the years, until, one day, the alteration jumps out at us fully grown. At any rate, I determined change is healthy. It's good for me, just like exercise and spinach.

This was an attitude of resignation and justification.

My thinking then evolved once more. I came to understand change is welcome. We're like leaves caught in a current. Change is a force which carries us along. It moves us forward. Sometimes we run into rocks, or get caught, or maybe even dragged under. No matter. Change is still a powerful force which we should embrace to propel us through life.

This attitude is one of passivity.

I can recall watching Monty Hall on "Let's Make a Deal" when I was little. You might win some fabulous prize, but then...there was a moment of change. You could choose to trade your prize for some unknown treasure. You had no idea if you were exchanging your vacation for a new car or a donkey. All the contestants, though, welcomed the change that happened to them, up until the moment of disappointment. I determined, overall, change is a gift. The only problem is we never know what's in the box we're unwrapping.

This approach toward change is an attitude of uninformed reactivism.

It's only recently I've begun exploring the idea of myself as change. It recently occurred to me that, while I can run from change, allow change to happen to me, or guess blindly at change, I also have the opportunity to actively seek out, evaluate, and implement change for myself and for others. The change resides inside me. I am the agent of change. When I see something broken, it's the change living in me that will bring restoration.

There is empowerment and liberation in this attitude.

There is also heavy responsibility.

Change won't only affect me. It will affect everyone and everything I touch. It would, therefore, behoove me to ensure I'm making wise, empathetic changes. Change for the sake of change often can be the monster I feared. Change without planning can be the goat in a box. Yet, I have the opportunity to light the world on fire with the change burning in my gut.

And so do you. There is a flame of change specific to you waiting to ignite the world.
We need to open the windows of ourselves, give it some oxygen, and fan it.