Ain't it funny, how everything changes?

Last time I checked, the average American’s life expectancy was about 79, up from 75 when I was born in 1990. Inexplicably, I have always expected I will live to 100 because, well, that seems like a cool thing to do. But odds are my time on earth will last between 75 and 100 years, so as I turn 25 tomorrow, it might be a quarter life crisis, but it feels as good a time as any to stop and reflect. “I wonder sometimes / About the outcome / Of a still verdict-less life / Am I living it right?” John Mayer may have written the song, but most people I know sing some interpretation of it between 18 and 25.

[I’m writing this while listening to Judah & the Lion’s “Kids These Days” which feels like a transliteration of so much of my twenties — it covers many of the themes that I've been thinking about lately, and is a great treatment of them.]

You grow up and find that everything changes. Feelings change, seasons change, friends change, tastes change, locations change, priorities change, people change, and even what you expect to change, changes. And there are two types of change: frightening changes and exciting changes.

Ain’t it funny how everything changes” is probably a little too tongue in cheek…a lot of the time it is more accurate to say “isn’t it the worst how everything changes?” because a lot of changes are frightening. We develop a sense of comfort and safety with familiar things, but when friends cease to stay in touch or you move away or people you love die, it hurts. Change strips away that feeling of safety, because so often the changes are out of our control and our default interpretation of helplessness is that it leaves us unsafe. I wrestled with this leaving high school and college, not because I was scared of moving on, but because I didn’t want to. I was happy with how things were and didn’t want them to change. Like Márgarét, I “weep and know why”. As I grow older I am more and more aware of the loss that accompanies so many changes. In many ways change “is the blight man was born for”.

Thankfully, I do tend to view many changes as exciting. Meeting new people, traveling and living in new places have an opportunity cost, it’s true. You may lose what you had (cost) but you gain new things (opportunity). The paradox is that you can’t horde — I wish I could accept new and exciting changes while keeping what I like and avoiding the terrifying changes.

I love how Tolkien teases this out with a recurring poem throughout the Lord of the Rings stories. Bilbo first sings it at the end of the Hobbit, and then repeats a slightly altered version at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

I see the theme of change in this. Our lives, this “Road”, wind on and on, and even if the destination is unclear, we see it continue, following it as we can. Bilbo has an interesting response to the unknown—he pursues it with eager feet! Even though he “cannot say” what will happen. How many changes are woven throughout the many paths and errands of life?

I think we are supposed to meet the Road with eager feet, especially while we are young. It is true that exciting changes in our lives show their own benefits, but much more enticing is the temptation to burrow in comfort and shrink away into a faux safety, avoiding negative changes at all costs. I don’t think that is right. Is comfort what we’re called to? I think like Bilbo, we are better off pursuing the Road from the doorstep to as far as we can go until our eager feet have become weary after persevering on long, difficult and eventful journeys:

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

I guess sometimes I fear change because I desire safety and the changes feel unsafe. But we can all find real safety at the end of our journey, no matter how far down the Road we traveled — we’ll turn, our “evening-rest and sleep to meet”. I hope I don’t turn prematurely out of fear and miss “A new road or a secret gate / …the hidden paths that run / West of the Moon, East of the Sun”. That would be sad indeed.

Time to wrap up all the loose threads I've spread out here. After 9,139 days I still do wonder about the outcome of my life — I don’t know what I am going to do, where I am going to go or who I am going to be with while I remain here on earth. But in a very important sense, my life is not verdict-less. From the Latin veredictum, literally meaning “to say the truth”, there are verdicts, because praise God, there is certainly truth. Here is the verdict I am holding to tonight, a verdict that strengthens and comforts and lifts the veil of fear that shrouds the coming changes of my life:

You don’t change
You don’t change for anything
You’re always true.

Tonight, as I fall asleep for the last time as a 24 year old, I’ll pray the same prayer I pray every night. It is a short prayer I say out of habit most nights, though some nights I choke it out with broken urgency. My parents used to say it for me, and then with me, and now I say it by myself. It is Psalm 4:8:

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for my God does not change. He is always true, and though everything else may change, His goodness and love are constant, and they will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in His house forever.

In safety.

Virtual Field Notes

A digest of thoughts, observations & experience loosely presented as essays.

Karl Magnuson

Written by

The Road goes ever on and on...pursuing it with eager feet until it joins some larger way…and whither then? I cannot say.

Virtual Field Notes

A digest of thoughts, observations & experience loosely presented as essays.

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