This Too Shall Pass

Accepting change has never been my strong point.  I have a strong tendency to stick with  familiar things, and to cling to my long-established routines.  People usually seemed surprised (and a little impressed) when they ask me how long I’ve been volunteering at the local animal shelter and I answer, “almost seventeen years.”  A big part of the reason I’ve stayed so long is that I’m passionate about helping shelter dogs.  But if I’m being entirely honest, I have to admit that walking shelter dogs three days a week has also become a habit, and I don’t break habits easily.

But the problem with being resistant to change is that far too many things in my life are changing, and not always for the better.  In my darker moments, I strongly suspect that most of the things I enjoy and a most of the ways I prefer to do things are fast becoming obsolete.

For instance, I love taking photos, which is easier than ever now, thanks to digital cameras and smart phones.  But I also like to print them off and display them in photo albums, and it’s getting harder and harder to find any place that makes good-quality prints, much less actually sells photo albums to store them in.  I’ve been using the website of a local camera shop, but they recently replaced their edit feature with one that isn’t compatible with my computer, which is not a change for the better.

My husband and I are also apparently among the few people who prefer not to bank online, and actually pay our bills the old-fashioned way, by mailing checks.  Yet we know we are living on borrowed time, as our bank keeps making it harder to order checks, and also sends fewer checks with each order.  (Even though the fee for ordering checks keeps getting higher.)  I suspect they’re trying to see just how much they can charge their customers per check before we give up and switch to on-line banking.  Which, of course, makes it so much easier for hackers to access our accounts, so you can see what an improvement that’s going to be.

I love to read books, and by that I mean actual books…the kind that are kept on a book shelf.  But book stores are closing all over the country and some new “books” are being published only on-line.  I know that saves paper, but I also know that staring at screens for hours on end isn’t good for our eyes.  Plus, all those devices that we read from operate on batteries and/or electricity, which isn’t exactly good for the environment.  But mostly, I just love books and truly hate the thought of a world without them.

Sometimes I’m afraid the time is approaching when even writing, which is one of my greatest joys, will be obsolete.  Who needs to actually know how to write when we can have all our needs met by simply talking to our computers, virtual assistants and assorted other gizmos?

Still, I know that change has always been a part of life, and that since we’re living in what can only be described as a “technological revolution,” it’s simply coming at us a little faster than I’d prefer.  And I like to think that just as our ancestors lived through eras of great change (such as the industrial revolution), I will get through this as well.

Perhaps the time has simply come for me to worry a bit less about the changes around me and have a little more faith in my ability to adapt and cope.  And to remember that not all change is bad, and that some change is actually very, very good.  All I can say is that I’ll try.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep walking the shelter dogs, and possibly start stockpiling photo albums for future use.  Because some change is simply unacceptable…..

Birthday Wishes

IMG_1116Recently, my son sent me a text asking what I would like for my birthday this year.  I wasted no time in sending the answer:  a beachfront condo on Sanibel Island, a wrinkle-free neck, skinny thighs and good eyesight.  Even though I graciously told him he could select which of the gifts he would prefer to give me, I didn’t get a reply.  Perhaps he was too busy comparing the costs and labor involved in each of my selections before settling on his final choice.

I remember very well how easily I used to come up with a list of things I wanted for my birthday.  Like most children raised on lots of television, I always had a ready list of new toys and games I had seen advertised and that I was dying to have.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I yearned for a wardrobe full of expensive and beautiful clothes that would allow me to have whatever look was trendy at the time.  Still later, as a not-so-young adult, there were always books, jewelry, a few clothes and other various household items that I would be pleased to receive, so even then the question of “what do you want for your birthday?” wasn’t hard to answer.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere in my journey through middle age, I just stopped wanting quite so many things.  Maybe I don’t long for beautiful clothes any more because I know that those clothes probably aren’t going to look all that great on my middle-aged body.  (And I’m actually okay with that:  one of the benefits of aging is that I no longer feel the pressure to strive for the “perfect” appearance.)  I don’t mind wearing the same few necklaces and bracelets each time I go out, and as for household items, my house is already as full as I want it to be.

I still love books, but years of diligently collecting the works of my favorite authors means that my bookshelves are basically full.  I don’t want to end up like my father, who had more than sixty boxes of books that he insisted on bringing with him on each of our family’s many moves.  (A family friend once commented, “By the time your dad finally gets all his books unpacked and on his shelves, it’s basically time to start packing them up again for the next move.”)  I go through my books every so often, getting rid of the ones that I no longer read so that I have room for any new books I add to my collection.  So far, my system is working, because I haven’t bought a new bookshelf in years.

So now, at the age of almost fifty-eight, I have a hard time coming up with a birthday wish list of things that anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy (beachfront condos don’t come cheap) could actually buy for me.  And that’s a good thing, because it means I have reached the point where I have figured out that the things that I want the most, and the things that are the most important to me, have absolutely nothing to do with money.

I’d Rather Read About It

A good friend of mine once asked me why I enjoyed reading so much.  “How can you  just sit there for hours,” she wanted to know, “doing nothing but staring at a book?  I just don’t have the patience for that!”  I have to admit that I found her question so odd that I couldn’t think of an answer right away.  Especially since I know that my friend really enjoys watching movies, which the last time I checked, also involves sitting still for long periods of time.  And while I do enjoy a good movie, if I were given the choice between reading a book or watching a movie or television show, I’ll pick reading every single time.

A movie shows me things, in its own way and in its own good time, and sometimes with jerky camera movements that leave me feeling just a little bit motion sick.  A book, on the other hand, tells the story with words, and there are always plenty of details that are left to the reader’s imagination.  That means each of us are going to picture the characters, the action, and the setting just a little bit differently, so that reading a story becomes so much more personal that simply watching the action on a screen.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I usually imagine the main character looking at least a little like people I know, and that makes them very real.  In a movie, you are stuck with what the actor actually looks like.

IMG_0696Words, if put together skillfully, can convey the subtle nuance, off-beat humor, and shared insights that make reading such a joy.  I enjoy the mysteries of Gwendoline Butler, not so much for their plots (which are good), but for her way with words.  In her book Cracking Open A Coffin, she describes the main character, John Coffin, sitting at a table listening to his companion’s troubles.  His dog, Bob, is underneath the table with his head resting heavily on Coffin’s foot, which is beginning to go numb.  She writes:  “Coffin looked his sympathy and tried again to shift Bob from his foot.  Bob sank deeper down.”  Anyone who has experience with a stubborn dog knows exactly how one can “sink deeper down” when it wants to stay put.  But that’s not something that could easily be shared on a screen.

When I’m reading a good book, I am truly seeing the world from someone else’s eyes, because everything is told through the narrator’s perspective. I know what the character is thinking, not just saying and doing.  I may be a middle-aged, middle class Protestant woman, but after reading Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway, I know what it feels like to be a young, broke,Quaker girl from England who is struggling to start a new life in Ohio in the 1850’s.  That’s a gift.  And although I don’t read poetry nearly as much as I should, a good poem can pack so much meaning into just a few simple words.  My college yearbook used these words from Chidiock Tichborne as a memorial to a student who died during the school year:  “My thread is cut, and yet it is not spun.  And now I live, and now my life is done.”  Exactly.

So yes, I know I spend a good portion of my life with my nose in a book.  But there are so many good books out there, and so many authors whose words are just waiting to be read, and so much to experience, enjoy, and learn from them.  Personally, I can think of very few better ways to spend my time.