The Times They Are a Changing

Things do change, over time. Sometimes they plod along with the most aggravating slowness, like the representation of women in elected office and corporate leadership—numbers that have barely budged in decades. Some things change with breathtaking speed, like the legality of same-sex marriage, coming soon to your state, if it hasn’t already.

Out in the world, the same shit happens, over and over again. Some dude who hasn’t received the attention he believes he is due records his rage at the women of the world and kills a bunch of people. This has happened before and it will happen again.

Some other dude visits a Jewish place—a museum in Belgium—and opens fire. This too has happened before and anti-Semitism is not going away anytime soon.

In the micro-culture of personal relationships, change is also both slow-to-nonexistent and startlingly fast.

Some things I’ve learned lately:

  • Patterns established early in a relationship begin with small, seemingly trivial interactions that don’t look like patterns in the beginning. A decision, once made, becomes easier to make the next time, and the time after that. From there, they are set in stone. They may shift on a temporary basis, in response to a stressor or demand, but gradually they reassert themselves.
  • Events that occur early in a relationship (not just intimate relationships—relationships of all sorts) may take on an outsized importance. But, alarmingly, those involved will not have the same memory of the event, nor will they attach the same meaning to it.

I kind of wish I still didn’t know these things, because it makes all future social/professional/whatever engagements seem fraught with peril. Say the wrong thing to a new coworker and it may come back to bite you, even if you form a positive working relationship that lasts for years. Break a promise to someone in a fragile young friendship, even with a perfectly valid, inescapable reason, and she/he may never quite get over the feeling of being slighted. Or maybe they will. You don’t and can’t know what that slight might mean to them, as it interacts emotionally with their entire lifetime’s worth of experience with trust and betrayal.

I feel like I’m on an airplane flying through turbulent winds. Planes go very fast and when we land I will be in a completely different place. But the distance is great so the trip still takes a long time. I can’t feel the forward motion of the plane, only the choppy bouncing about that causes the seatbelt lights to come on. The people around me—fellow passengers and staff alike—all follow well-established scripts that make it possible for all of us to come through the flight intact. Some of those people are longtime members of the cast of my life. Some may be part of my future. Many I will never see again. There’s a huge element of uncertainty. Things can go wrong in both small and disastrous ways.

I also feel like I should’ve taken flying lessons when I was younger, because it turns out I may be called upon to land this sucker, and all of those dials are flashing warning signs in a language that looks only vaguely like English. All I can do is promise the others on board that I’ll bring it down as safely as I can.


4 thoughts on “The Times They Are a Changing

  1. I feel much more confident in your landing abilities than I did in Sandra Bullock’s Chinese spaceship shuttling abilities, and look: she won awards. I think what you said about patterns and small moments and tiny decisions is absolutely true. You just can’t anticipate what they’ll mean later. All you can do is try to act and speak with integrity and hope it works out in the end. What a treacherous world.

  2. This was a great post. Since I have my first overseas flight with kids coming up – very timely metaphors for me. Hoping for smooth skies for my real plane AND your symbolic one.

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