2017-12-20 / Columns

Hello 2018: The challenge we face in making changes


So here comes 2018. Maybe before you’re ready. But we’ve already marked the Jewish New Year, so in a sense we who are Jewish have already been there/done that.

Change is never easy—and this year is no exception.

We’ve endured a bruising global year with baffling events. We’ve looked around too often and seen murder and mayhem. Places on the other side of the world are facing monumental losses, and here at home, this year’s end feels at once welcome—and also scary.

And I know without even checking that I probably said the very same things at the dawning of 2017.

Yes, the seasons they go round and round indeed. And what’s next, we ponder. Yes, what’s next?

As we survey all that’s built into the mystery of the future, some of us also pause to take a long, hard look at ourselves around this time of year. It’s almost a reflex, a kind of changing of the guard of our souls, lofty as that sounds.

But is there the real possibility that we can change?

For years, my sister and I have had a running argument. Ruthie, who is two years older than I am and always has assumed the rights and privileges of a firstborn, insists that people can change.

I insist that deep down, where it counts, they can’t.

The argument comes up often and both Ruthie and I are stubborn. We try, but can’t convince each other of our unquestionable wisdom in this matter.

I will insist that I am the clone of my mother, physically and emotionally. I will point out to her that Ruthie is my father in everything from hair color to spirit.

I do tend to approach everything with a bit too much intensity. Life shouts at me, It always has.

I’m impulsive, impatient and restless. Always have been.

Ruthie has endless patience, and like our father, is analytical. While my sister could dismiss the slings and arrows of coming of age rationally, my head was done in by my heart. Every slight seemed the most tragic, every mild social rebuff the dramatic end of a friendship.

I would sob into my pillow. Ruthie would write in her journal.

At this advanced stage of my life, I’ve finally accepted it: I’m doomed to feel everything too much. And no matter how diligently I try to re-educate my tendencies, they won’t go away.

I will never manage to be on time, let alone early, for unimportant things. And my qualifier, in a marriage that is, of course, a mismatch between the perennially early bird and the “running late” culprit, is always that word “unimportant.”

There are probably deeply psychological reasons why I run, panting, to some commitments, and why I can’t seem to remember to gather up my glasses and my cell phone when we have someplace to go and the clock is ticking.

I resolve to do better—to plan more judiciously, to make lists and to factor in my poor husband’s belief that on time is good, but early is better. And still, I repeat the patterns endlessly.

Can this soul change? Not easily.

“Lighten up, mom!” my daughters command me when I tell them that I want them not just to do what they do, but also to care passionately about it.

I can see the looks they exchange when, on their visits home, I routinely ask Jill, Amy and Nancy what they’re thinking about. “More!” I’ll alternately beg or demand. “Tell me more!”

And sometimes they do.

But I know how it irritates them when I still knock on the door of their souls for admittance.

I know they find it annoying that I still try to inculcate in them astonishment, intensity, delight and confusion, because for me, life is so often defined by those things.

Will I change? Will I, indeed, lighten up in 2018?

Probably not.

As my late grandmother used to say, “You are what you are…”

Grandma had no advanced degrees. No pedigree from some prestigious institute of analytic theory.

But she had oceans of common sense. And part and parcel of it was her conviction that the important things are hard-wired, set almost from birth, and not likely to be altered.

You are what you are…

And now that I’m on her side of the age divide, I have one thing to say:

Grandma was right on!


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