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QUINTESSENCE

The Dissonance of Change


MORNING POEM
by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead—
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging—

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.


I have just spent the last six days in the company of my daughter, a new MD, on a cross-country drive from Seattle to Cleveland - where she will begin her surgical residency training. The interesting thing about road trips is that changes in life circumstances - the process of shift - are richly reflected in passing landscapes. The pitch and roll of mountain ranges and valleys, the changing color of dirt and rivers, vistas opening to prairie then to lakes, the populating of wilderness by farms, and those wide, cultivated acres narrowing to industry, cities rising upon concrete overpasses, the towering downtown skyscrapers... These are all echoes of personal relocation.

All we travel through echoes what we feel inside the midst of great shift. One known thing gives way to a new and unfamiliar thing. The translation between experiences gaps. We stand, stranger in a strange land, "grokking" as Heinlein would have it, the essence of all that looms before us. There is real dissonance in change. We thrill to the adventure and call of new challenges and stimuli: and we step back, trembling at the edge of our comfort zone. The new world is both attractive and unsettling at the same time.

Yes, we grow when we adapt and challenge ourselves to conquering unknown circumstances. But we also experience a poignant sense of loss stepping away from our established lives. The known is familiar, perhaps even beloved; the past represents the most grounded we have felt in recent memory. What lies ahead is a question, and the potential to fail, to find life wanting, or severely disappoint ourselves is achingly real.

Arriving in Cleveland entailed a profound geographical shift, a cultural shift, and an immersion in learning to navigate on the fly. Nothing is known: not routes nor directions, location of services or grocery stores - not even whether the nod in the elevator is ritually feigned or sincere. Does one say hello or keep a respectful peace? Mistakes abound. Amusement frequent. Surprise and alarm a daily occurrence. All of this shift: the dissonance of change. What is familiar, surrendering to the strange.

Moving from one part of these United States to another is difficult. The goodbyes to friends, paperwork hoops, proofs of identity and legality, even the establishing of credentials - finances to vehicle licenses - it's all just huge. But here's the fun thing: every step in life that enlarges personal boundaries in fact enlarges the self.

So, hang on little tomato, as Pink Martini sings it, and grow. Let it be in your nature to be happy.

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