Life is one big transition — Willie Stargell
What the late, great Pittsburgh Pirates slugger knew, so knew the ancient philosopher, Heraclitus, the Buddha and Andy Warhol. Whether we recognize it or not, accept it or not, change is always hovering nearby.
We can try to outrun it — human instinct isn’t to embrace it — but change never loses the race. Usually, it overtakes us, silently, and we acknowledge the transformation only in the past tense, when our interior or exterior landscape has been altered enough to notice.
Sometimes, change leaps heavy and hard upon us and slams us to the ground, leaving no doubt that, from now on, life is going be very, very different. After such a tackle (or mugging), the stealthy, silent sort of change often follows, like aftershocks from an earthquake.
In the past year, I have experienced some NFL-quality tackles — good and bad. Life has been turned upside down so many times, I’ve pretty much abandoned the hunt for solid ground. It all reminds me of the Scottish poet Anne Grant, who wrote, “Confusion is the hallmark of transition. To rebuild both your inner and outer world is a major project.”
Grant lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and she was speaking specifically of the way grief plunges a person into “an unknown territory,” in which “you might feel both helpless and hopeless without a sense of a ‘map’ for the journey.” I know that territory better now than ever before. I lost my mother six months ago, her absence leaving a void that will never be filled. I also lost a couple of important relatives last year and an inordinate number of good friends who had yet to live out their deserved time in the sun.
In a few months, I will lose my beloved church, St. Ann’s. On May 20, its life as a parish will end, another casualty of the changes in the Roman Catholic Church. Until then, our grieving process as parishioners will coincide with our celebration of St. Ann’s long, productive life.
Like many of my neighbors on the west and north sides of Terre Haute, I lost my sense of safety and serenity among the tall oaks and other old trees that canopied our homes and streets. A swift, ferocious straight-wind on May 25 made kindling of the leafy centenarians and has transformed the sound of anything stronger than a gentle breeze into an on-switch for post-traumatic stress.
Nothing endures but change.
Sometimes, of course, being tackled by change can be exhilarating, liberating and fantastic fun. So it has been with my marriage to Bill Fenoglio. The wedding took place at St. Mary-of-the-Woods — 11 days before the big storm blew through the county. Among our scripture readings was Genesis 18:1-15, the story of Sarah and Abraham hearing from God that Sarah would bear a child “in her old age.” (Talk about change.) Like any sane post-menopausal woman, Sarah laughed at such news.
I picked the reading because I was to be a first-time bride at age 61. An ardent feminist, career journalist and stereotypical independent woman, I was the last logical candidate to become anybody’s wife. Bill, on the other hand, is a seasoned vet as a husband. A widower in 2009, he had been married to Becky since 1961, the year he graduated from Rose Polytechnic Institute.
As I recently told a cousin, what Bill knows first-hand about being an “us,” is what I don’t know. I am an old dog learning new tricks that I have only observed — from the cheap seats in the stands.
Why Bill chose me, I must chalk up to Providence; nothing else makes sense. (Like, I have no intention of changing my last name, you know?) But choose me he did, and we are engaged in the unique process of building an “us” from two such different me-entities. As every person in a longtime, committed relationship can tell you, that process takes time, energy and serious focus.
They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
— Andy Warhol
The other realm of significant and sometimes disorienting change for me has been professional. After four decades of full-time employment in journalism, I took a few months off last year and — with the Tribune-Star’s support and blessing — returned as a twice-a-month Perspectives columnist. It’s been an interesting experiment, rewarding and challenging, comforting and weird.
But my gut — what an old pal calls our “knower” — recently shook me awake.
The furniture of my interior and exterior landscape has been greatly rearranged. So, too, as I have been reminded by the deaths of people I love, my days on this side of the divine divide are in dwindling supply. The cerebral and emotional capital I have to spend is shrinking and, by turns, becoming more precious. My knower said, “It’s time to recalibrate and change course.”
What I will do with the remaining capital and days, I’m not certain. I may be ending my production of regular newspaper columns, but as a lifelong, serial opinion meister, I can’t imagine clamming up for good. As long as Max Jones and the other good folk at the Trib-Star are amenable, I likely will weigh in, now and then, with a feature or column about someone or something I think readers will find worthy.
As I wait for the shape of further evolution, I plan to heed the words of playwright William Saroyan, who advised, “Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
Stephanie Salter may be e-mailed at SalterOpinion@gmail.com.