By Rachel Coleman, L&T columnist
“You never notice how many people drive silver cars, or the particular model you own, until you buy a new one,” somebody once pointed out to me. “Get a Toyota for the first time, and suddenly it seems like there are Toyotas everywhere.” The point, of course, was that all of us can be surrounded by something and never notice it, until we have a personal connection.
For me this week, the new and amazing thing was not a vehicle but a daily job. Amid the handshakes and the whirl of new information, I wandered through my new experience marveling at how many people have tackled new experiences. Parents with newborn babies. A friend who gave a speech to a local education group. Heck, even the robins tugging worms from the lawn seemed revolutionary to me: how did they manage to do that when nobody can tell if spring is really here or not? One miserable red breast bird caught my attention as he huddled, puffy, on the driveway. Early morning, but he was not hard at work finding breakfast; he looked like he wanted a couple hours’ more sleep, perhaps in a warmer place.
Regardless of the weather, the calendar steadily leads us through change at this time of year. Graduation announcements have tiled the bulletin board in my kitchen, printed notices of children growing up — and the photographs to prove it. Weddings will soon follow. Then the college students will be home for the summer, familiar faces somehow altered by the challenges of difficult coursework and the trickier life problems, like how to stretch the last five dollars for three weeks when finals loom and all the friends have gone out to eat at the local diner.
“Be sure to get enough rest,” a friend advised me, describing the chart of stressful life events that clever researchers designed. Along with crises like the death of a family member or an unexpected natural disaster, “normal” life events we typically think of as good showed up on the list. The birth of a baby. Starting a new job. Purchasing a house. All come with a special, secret dose of stress.
I guess that is because change of any kind is hard. If you don’t believe me, just upgrade your computer or purchase a new cell phone and see how you feel. I still remember the rage and frustration I felt when I purchased my current computer, five years ago. I bought the model I wanted with money I had saved, no compromises or disappointments. It was expensive and beautiful. I pulled it from the box, attached the cords and cables as directed, turned it on, and fell down a rabbit hole of rage.
“I hate it!” I told my family. “I can’t believe I did this!”
They listened to me with bewilderment. Hadn’t I ordered the very thing I had coveted for months? Hadn’t the order come on time, with all components packed perfectly in the color-coordinated boxes?
Yes and yes, and I was still miserable. Without realizing it, I had assumed the new, amazing machine would operate like the old one — only better. No adjustments on my part, just silent, simple improvements for my computer-using convenience.
Ha. If it’s true that we go through life with the choice of growing or dying, the fact is that this business of growth and change can sometimes make us wonder if we are in fact on the verge of death.
I actually had a fabulous week, despite occasional tiny waves of utter terror that washed over me now and then. You never realize how cozy and comfortable you’ve gotten in your familiar, everyday life until you try something new. The simple act of driving to a new location and choosing a parking spot as a an employee and not a visitor left me feeling a little dazed. Small, ordinary tasks like sending out the mail or refilling a printer with paper were not the same.
Nobody’s giving out medals for successful navigation of the office supply cabinet, but there’s something invigorating about taking on a new set of challenges. Corny as it may sound, those situations are the ones that force us to consider what kind of people we are, and who we’d like to be. The results can be amazing.
I thought about that when my mother pulled out a family history book that traces my grandfather’s relatives, the Fast family, from 1763 to 1963. Crammed with Prussian and German surnames, the book recounted lives in severely abbreviated, fascinating form. One ancestor traveled from Russia to China to Paris to Paraguay before finding a safe home for his family. Another settled in Minnesota, where he was a farmer and “a fine baritone singer.” The author of this history, typical of the family, valued singing and often noted what sort of musical voice a person possessed. He also told stories of people who buried half their children (nearly everyone before 1880), were murdered by bandits (Russia, 1919), who embarked on missionary work (Congo, 1949), who they married and where they raised their children.
The common thread in all these tales was resilience. Sometimes we choose a new adventure in the form of a job or a spouse. Other times, life hands us fresh circumstances with very little notice. Change requires courage. It also demands steadiness, faith, and a dose of humor.
So far, I haven’t called anyone by the wrong name or gotten lost in the many buildings that dot the campus of Seward County Community College/Area Technical School. I have, however, learned where to refill my coffee mug and figured out which direction to load paper into the computer printer. One thing at a time, along with all the rest of the people in the world who are learning to adapt to change.