“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”~- Lao Tzu
I’m moving this week, and the sheer amount that remains to be done before I leave is making me feel physically ill, and terribly homesick. The best antidote would be a strong cup of tea and Marie biscuits with my Dad, but in lieu of that, I need to write and pray to calm down.
My move last year happened during Ramadan as well, a time when I stressed about which books I should take with me and thought a lot about Robert Frost’s line that “knowing how way leads on to way/I doubted if I should ever come back”, because I didn’t like the scenario he presented.
It’s not that I wanted to stay home; I was excited about Toronto and all the learning and growth the city would bring, but it upset me to think how places and people change over time, and that coming back to Vancouver in the future would likely be very different. For a long time, my concern that the city, the people and I all would change (and indeed I discovered in my first few visits all those things happened) meant I spent a lot of time in first year “looking down one (path) as far as a I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth” trying to understand if urban planning was right for me.
Right now I’m leaving my downtown neighbourhood, and I feel very sentimental about the nearby coffeeshops, our beautiful morning walks, leaving the cosiness of the apartment, and saying goodbye to all the other things that have become so beloved in the past twelve months.
Part of the reason I find change challenging is that I’ve always made very big decisions very quickly without a proper understanding of what they mean. It’s not the decision making method that needs work, but when you make choices without a full knowledge of what it is you’re committing to, you eventually reach a point where you go through a process of analysis and ask yourself: now that I understand this more fully, is this still a good choice? The danger though is to feel unsatisfied with your answers because constant uncertainty prevents you from participating fully in your own life.
The year before I graduated from undergrad I attended the Political Science convocation as a member the faculty procession (ah the joys of student government!). In the ceremony, Professor Toope, the president of UBC said:
“Realizing that life is a gift comes with the corollary feeling that the gift should not be hoarded. It comes with the feeling of wanting to give oneself away to worthy work, in marriage, in love, to God. And it comes with the question: is this person, this work, this nation worthy of the gifts I have to give?”
Which is not to say I have tremendous gifts to share, but the questions are crucial, and since that year I’ve often thought about Professor Toope’s words. Grad school though has taught me that the answers to these questions do not come through sitting and thinking, they can only emerge when you’re fully engaged in meaningful work and experiences. So to myself, on the beginning of exciting and challenging new chapters, my advice is to be gentle and stay rooted while the answers to these questions unfold. Stay committed and present in your choices. Commit to whatever you’re doing. If you live in a city, live there fully for as long as you are meant to be there. Don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis. If you’re working a job, be there fully during the workday. There may be multiple things going on in your life, but think about them when you are done with your work. Focus on striving for excellence. If you are studying, study with all your heart. If you’re trying to be a person of religious practice, practice and don’t waver. Don’t shuffle off to your prayers. Muster up energy and you’ll be able to bring more energy to what you do. Be present and there in everything you do.
I finally understand what friends were telling me last year, that it’s critical to decide who and what you want to be, what you want your life to be about, and then make decisions to get you there. And some things are mutually exclusive options, you can’t have everything, so decisions are unavoidable. To not decide is a decision that doesn’t move you forward or allow you to be where you are.