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Reform Magazine | October 22, 2017

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On the pilgrim way: Not all change is decay

maxey“Change and decay in all around I see,” says the old hymn; and although the sentiment rings some bells for me, I am not happy lumping “change” automatically with “decay”. Certainly I am conscious of bodily decay – especially first thing in the morning – and mental decay when I just cannot find a word I know perfectly well, and as the leaves shrivel and fall from my amelanchier tree – far too early after this lovely dry summer – the inevitable “decay” of autumn is just round the corner.

But the many changes unsettling my life just now are something quite different. Choice and chance rather than the laws of nature are involved. A niece who has lived near us almost continuously for the past 35 years has moved to Edinburgh to make a new start in life. She came for supper most weeks, looked after our cat when we went on holiday, but more than that, she and I had so much shared past and could talk about my parents/ her grandparents and their little ways as if they had only just died. A great niece who has lived with us since January, bringing young life into the house, shoes in the hall and washing in the machine – is also packing up to move to Edinburgh, at last breaking into the job market. These are good changes but they leave me both relieved and bereft.

I am on the edge of upheaval as our daughter, Ruth, moves with her husband and three children (two of them on the autism spectrum) from Staffordshire to Milton Keynes. Change for autistic children is particularly threatening so they have been carefully prepared and consulted over many months. Sam’s new bedroom is a careful copy of his old one. But for Hannah (aged eight) the excitement of a new bedroom where she can choose new colours and present herself in a new way is an opportunity, not a threat.

When it comes to the real grief over the loss of friends and a loving community, the boys do not seem deeply affected, whereas Hannah and Ruth have shed many tears. It seems that their readiness, even eagerness, to move on can exist alongside sadness about what is being left behind. Maybe that is part of living life to the full – change, decay and all.

I read somewhere that the best way to deal with chronic pain is to enter into it, rather than shrink tensely away from it. I wonder whether that applies more widely to daily living. The American poet, Mary Oliver, ends her poem When Death Comes with the line: “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for  Reform

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This article was published in the September 2013 edition of  Reform.

Read more articles by Sheila Maxey

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