The only thing that is constant is change. – Heraclitus
I don’t remember where or when I first encountered this phrase. I likely brushed it off, not giving full thought to its meaning or relevance. It felt like an oversimplification, a philosopher’s attempt at making sense of life’s persistent ebb and flow. Now, it’s an invitation to make my stomach churn, unsettled by a notion that’s constantly reaffirming itself.
Maybe it’s not until we’ve weathered a few storms that we come to recognize that the consistency and stability we hold so dear is also so often fleeting. Or perhaps it’s simply easier to recognize and accept change only when it’s perceived as positive, rather than negative.
Like many, I tend to shy away from change. I’m a creature of habit, tradition, and orderliness, enemies of the constant that is. I quickly become comfortable with, dependent even, on the way things are, and any shift, whether sudden or slow and steady, can shake the stable ground on which I thought I stood.
That is, if it’s not a shift I was anticipating, or intent on welcoming. Why is it that the changes we long for, the ones we would embrace with open arms, escape our grasp?
Even when a highly anticipated change comes along, it’s packaged with another one we resist. We welcome vacation days, but feel unprepared when we’re unexpectedly forced to take time off. We save up for more square footage, but come to dread the extra maintenance. And we revel in new gadgets only to be met with frustration before we fully master them.
There’s no guarantee that the changes we seek will satisfy us, or that the ones we resist aren’t really blessings in disguise. In fact, perhaps what Heraclitus best captured is that the only guarantee we can count on is one we can’t control.
It’s not uncommon for those facing terminal illness or significant loss to reflect on how frequently we take for granted the simple pleasures that surround us, the relationships that keep us going, and the seemingly trivial moments that weave together each of our days.
If we cling to these moments and relationships more tightly, appreciate them in their barest form, can we safeguard ourselves against the inevitable?
I’ve been guilty of believing that appreciation is the antidote to change. As comforting as this belief is, it fails to hold true. We love and lose, linger and let go. Perhaps the only combat to the constant of change is its embrace.
We don’t have to revel in the change itself, only in the promise of its presence. This past year has brought changes larger than I could have imagined, some of them welcome, others not, and still more not yet determined.
Nearly all of them were unpredicted, and when we can’t see what’s coming, we can at least make room for its unavoidable arrival. The big changes that shatter our world as we knew it, and the smaller ones that slowly creep up on us, actively rebelling our bravest attempts to ignore them.