Exactly Different

I’ve included Michael Swearingen’s chapter illustrations for Playing with Sharp Objects in my last couple of blogs. Call it a marketing campaign. Really, I just love his work. Michael picked one line from each chapter in my recent book. He used those lines as inspiration for his comics. So strange. So interesting.

The image above introduces chapter two of the book. That chapter continues my account of being a student in elementary school. I wrote about my parent’s divorce during the third grade. Dad moved my sister and me to a new house (and a new school district) soon after.

“Everything is exactly different now,” I told my father.

What a strange thing for a child to say. It was true, though. My life as an eight-year old was exactly different from my life as a seven-year old. We were in a strange place, Mom had left, and all of my friends were gone. Everything had changed.

Dad always remembered that line. He told me about it years later. So the statement showed up in my book.

***

Solomon hates change. And I mean the smallest of changes.

“Get ready, Solomon,” Katie will say if we’re going to a friend’s house for dinner. “It’s time to leave.”

“No!” Solomon often screams. “I want to stay home. I just like staying home all the time.”

Poor kid. I like staying home all the time too. I’m an introvert.

Change is hard. I taught Catcher in the Rye in a previous life, when I was a 9th grade English teacher. In chapter 16, Holden says “certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.”

I always read this line as Holden’s lamentation for the inevitable. The passage of time. The move from childhood to adulthood. Innocence to experience. The impermanence of things seems to make Holden sad. Makes me sad too.

Time will pass. Things will change. I will die. No way around it. Solomon and Samson too. They’ll stop being the beautiful, adorable, energetic children they are now.

Talk about depressing!

Holden laments not being able to put things in big glass cases. To freeze them. I guess it makes me sad to know that this too shall pass. What shall pass? Everything.

Yes, things change. But there’s always possibility in change. Even death. Transformation. Who knows what comes next?

I worry when people don’t allow for change. Myself included. It’s easier to clutch onto moments too tightly, to fear the unknown – the change. I was so anxious about moving to State College, PA. Leaving my previous life. But this is a long established trend. I was anxious about changing elementary schools in fourth grade. I left St. Paul for Minnetonka. I transferred school districts again after fifth grade. I hated change. But I was forced to accept it. To improvise. To move with what was available to me, rather than to hold onto the way that I thought things should be. And now I’m 38. And I keep changing. You should see my belly. Or the gray in my hair. Oi vey.

Yes, the move from innocence to experience is a complicated one. I worry about the people who resist it. I’ve met so many adults who behave like children. I’ve met so many other people who are older, who are wiser. Richard Wright ends his memoir Black Boy, one of my favorite books, by writing that “the days of my past, of my youth, were receding from me like a rolling tide, leaving me upon alone upon high, dry ground, leaving me with a quieter and deeper consciousness.”

Oh man. I love that line. I love Wright’s writing. What a mournful, hopeful image.

Yes, something is lost in giving up the days of our youth. Those days are gone. Forever. But, maybe we move to a quieter and deeper consciousness in letting them go. Maybe that’s what adulthood is. Experience. I certainly feel quieter and deeper now than I did when I was seven. Or eight. And I’ve given up much to be here now. But I’m still looking further down the road. There’s more to come. Transformation. Changes.

I don’t know how to convince Solomon that change is okay. We signed him up for kindergarten next year. He’s so anxious. He’s excited too. There’s no way around it. He’ll give up what he is now as he ages. As he moves. Transform into something else. Hopefully, I can help him learn to improvise. To work with what is available with the infinite faith that something more is being conjured. That’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes. Necessary, though. Hopeful.

There’s always more.

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