Of all things, I believe in this: change. The Buddhists hold change as one of the basic tenets of existence: anicca, their word for it, a short, flashy burst of syllables, transient itself. It was a humid day in summertime Providence when I first heard this term. Professor Wolff was a full-bodied woman with strong, elegant posture that held her white hair aloft, leaving no sign, in her pose, of the sadness she carried with her. Caught by her own recognition, she stumbled over the word as she spoke it aloud-who better would know the meaning of impermanence than a woman watching her quarter century long marriage dissolve? It was a year before I would learn it myself, or maybe it was simply that long before I would finally have a loss deep enough, jarring enough, that I would recognize its pervasive spread throughout my semi-adult life, even marking the walls of my childhood. I adopted it as my own, wearing the badge “commitment-phobe” with something of a sense of pride, citing the grand truth of impermanence as my backing. It was an unfortunate philosophy to have in my early 20s, when many of my friends were signing up for life-long hitches. I heard my mother’s voice during wedding ceremonies: “Marry in haste, repent in leisure!” and my father’s unfailing reply, “Marriage is a great institution – but who wants to be in an institution?”
The funny thing is that I wasn’t wrong. Things might change; things do change, mostly to our knowledge but occasionally very unexpectedly. Over the years I have learned that anicca is not intended as it is not an excuse for a passive sort of fatalism, nor does it allow for throwing up one’s hands about the future. Rather, the certainty of change is, in other words, hope. Without it, there would be very little reason to come back home after an argument, even less reason to march in protest, and no reason at all to chain yourself to a hundred-year-old tree. The catch, however, is this: the direction of change is up to us. where we take this world is within our collective power. I believe in change, and therefore I cannot stop fighting for it.
Last autumn, I found myself standing in our town hall. it was built 150 years ago, of hand-hewn pine floor boards, and window glass that looks as if it’s settled toward the bottom. The barely-there electricity flickered in the gusts of winds that blew off the lake, and a shiver ran down my spine. I will be married here, I thought suddenly, for the first time in my life, and started laughing. I believe in change. I believe that even I can change.
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