Brian Cronin illustration
Illustration: Brian Cronin
Change can be wonderful. People improve their appearance, improve their marriages, get great new jobs, even great new spouses. Plus, dear little babies become adorable toddlers, and pretty soon the toddlers can read and then they're having a really nice Sweet Sixteen and their skin clears up and they never talk to you, they fall in love with people you wouldn't allow in your house if you had a choice and they move far away and you rarely get to see the grandchildren.

That's what change is for a lot of us—stuff you have to pretend to embrace even as your heart sinks; you know it's going to end badly and you already feel the inevitable loss. The other awful thing about change is that we want it as much as we fear it and we need it as much as we need safety. I hate my marriage but I'm afraid of being alone. I'm sick of being a lawyer but I don't know how to do anything else.

Good news: It doesn't matter whether you like change or not, whether you embrace it or run in the opposite direction. Not only will changes be taking place, they will be taking place all the time, with and without your participation, from the mouse-sized (they no longer make your favorite suntan lotion) to elephant-sized (death, divorce, and disability). It turns out that even if you make no changes in your lousy marriage, your stultifying job, or your painful relationship with your brother, all those things will change anyway. Your only choice is to take steps toward change (you don't have to quit the job or the marriage all of a sudden), or to wait and see what surprises the universe has for you as you cling to what you thought was safety.

Mostly, change is as inevitable as rain in the spring. Some of us just put on our raincoats and splash forward, some of us choose to stay home, a few admirable nuts shed their clothes and cavort in the yard, and some people go out and get deeply, resentfully, and miserably wet. And no matter what, the rain falls. It falls on dry grass, which is the kind of change we love, and it falls, too, on June weddings and the day you began the Appalachian Trail. Sylvia Boorstein is a Jewish grandmother, a psychotherapist, and a Buddhist, which signifies to me that she must know something about complaining (even quietly) and accepting (not just pretending to). She writes: "We can struggle, or we can surrender. Surrender is a frightening word for some people, because it might be interpreted as passivity, or timidity. Surrender means wisely accommodating ourselves to what is beyond our control. Getting old, getting sick, dying, losing what is dear to beyond our control. I can either be frightened of life and mad at life—or not. I can be disappointed and still not be mad." People get old, plans change, red wine spills on your great-grandmother's tablecloth—there isn't any other way.

Next: What the Dalai Lama can teach you about accepting change

It seems to me that the absolute star of accepting change is the Dalai Lama, the easy, gentle master of living in the moment and understanding that life is nothing but transition. My sister is not the Dalai Lama; no one has ever gotten them confused. My sister's approach to change, although not approved by the International Council for the Happy-Go-Lucky, is novel and effective.

Me: Hi, it's me. I just wanted to let you know that x (a member of my side of our extended family) wants to bring someone to Thanksgiving/Passover/anything.

She: Oh. S***. The table will be so crowded.

Me: Umm...

She: It'll be awful. People will be sitting on the patio, practically.

Me: Umm...

She: I'm not making something vegan, dammit.

Me: Umm...

She: Is he/she nice?

Me: Yes.

She: Are they in love?

Me: Looks that way.

She: [Pause] Okay.

Me: Okay? It's okay?

She: [Sweetly] Well, of course. [Patiently] There's plenty of room.

So, maybe, there's an alternative to beatific acceptance of change. Maybe a little grousing helps. Maybe some frank grumbling smooths the way for some genuine acceptance. Maybe the trick is to acknowledge that change is sometimes wonderful, sometimes not, often disturbing, and always happening. Then, make room at the table.

My sister, the Dolly Lama.

Advice for a Better You


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