Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Enormous Changes at the Last Minute."

It’s the famous title of Grace Paley’s collection of short stories, published in 1974. These six simple words arranged so artfully strike a deep understanding in my heart and have accompanied me for years. You live, and nothing seems to change even though it is changing all the time and suddenly: enormous changes at the last minute.

Pablo graduated high school on Friday evening. He still seemed unripe and unready for college. But the day after he graduated: enormous changes at the last minute. He now seems ripe and ready, as if he matured overnight.

I haven’t written for a few days, because: enormous changes at the last minute. I signed a contract with a builder to begin construction on my “empty nest house.” Then, my house sold. It was as if the universe said, well, she’s moving ahead with her plans, so we will take care of business. Which means I have to rent a house for nine months. Which means, two moves in nine months. Are you exhausted yet? My life right now is filled with lawyers, paperwork of house closing, house rental, house building, garage sales, packing and moving. My mind is too frittered to write lyrically.

Which brings me to a quote about life from my friend, Barbara Dunkel. “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at the same time.” So right now, I’m busy with houses. And when my housing crisis is done…I will get back to writing. And reading and cooking. But right now, sleepless nights, a bit too much stress, and houses.

Which brings me to Mao Tse-Tung. Now I’m not a big fan of Mao and of what he did to China, but for better or worse, he left his mark on world history. Mao was a sailor and liked to use sailing metaphors when speaking about life. He viewed himself as “The Great Helmsman,” steering China into his vision of the future. He explained to the Chinese people that: sometimes, the way to get to where you want to go is by taking a detour.

The first thing you learn in sailing is, that most of the time, you can’t get to where you want to go in a straight line, because of the ways the fickle wind is blowing in relation to your sails. So you learn to tack. Tacking is when you work with the wind to move forward in a zig zag manner. Sometimes you zig, sometimes you zag, but eventually you’ll get there. Well, life is like that. Sometimes, you can’t just get to the place you want to go directly. You need to do some tacking, some detouring. But you’ll eventually get there if your sights are set strongly and you work with whatever way the wind blows.

Which brings me to another truth that rings deep in my heart. This one from Emily Dickinson. It is how I’m feeling now, about all the enormous changes at the last minute. “To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else.”

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