And furthermore

The more things change

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

There is a saying: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

It’s clever, but it’s not true. Things change all the time. Often it just takes a while to perceive just how much, probably because it happens so gradually.

This month there will be lots of reunions for Thanksgiving. Aunts and uncles or grandparents who live far away will gather with extended families, perhaps for the first time since last year. Children will come home from college or new homes far away. These are the times when you can see change most dramatically.

It’s like time-lapse photography. However, when you’re up close it’s more on the order of slow motion.

From last year’s turkey day to this, a couple of gray hairs in your uncle’s sideburns become a salt and pepper headful, but if you had seen him every day it would seem to happen imperceptibly, and by the time you became aware of it, everything would seem natural.

The same holds true for the appearance of crow’s feet under Aunt Cecilia’s eyes or the cracking voice of your nephew.

Proud grandparents fight against the knee or back pain that makes an after dinner walk in the woods this year a challenge. Adolescents test their emerging independence by arguing for staying in and surfing the web. A year ago it was different. Change manifests itself incrementally in degrees that appear subtle at first, the way mortar falls in tiny bits from the crevices of a chimney until the bricks begin to shift. It is always happening, though.

Inside and out we are always changing, but the interior changes are even less obvious and sometimes harder to recognize. For years and years you loved chocolate cake, but little by little when given a choice you chose white/vanilla. After a while you began rationalizing that it was just to give your palate a rest so you would savor the chocolate even more when you switched back. But finally you realized you had to concede. No longer were you a chocoholic. No longer was chocolate your favorite. Your taste had dramatically changed.

It is the kind of transformation that can be difficult to acknowledge. Friends and relatives having long assumed they knew a gift of chocolate in some form or other would be just the thing for you, now must be disabused of that assumption. It can be a chore.

Someone I once knew liked those incredibly sweet candied yams with baby marshmallows. A relative dutifully made them for her every holiday they got together and would wait expectantly to receive the gratitude and plaudits she had become accustomed to. As time went by, the dish proved too sweet, even for the yam aficionado, but she didn’t know any graceful way of explaining that. So, she bit her tongue and did her best to continue to eat them with a show of enthusiasm.

Change can be as difficult to acknowledge to oneself as it is to confess. If admitting to new tastes and preferences is that challenging, what about new attitudes and beliefs? What happens if little by little you lose your religious faith, want to change your political affiliation, or fall out of love? Change, large and small, rarely happens with the suddenness of a lightning bolt. Mostly, it happens inch by inch. When you cannot deny it any more, it must at last be acknowledged.

It probably only seems precipitous to those around you because most of us enjoy the comfortable feeling of things that seem to stay the same. But stasis is an illusion. From the cellular level where things are always in flux to stating the flavor of ice cream that we like, change is always occurring.

A certain amount of consistency is crucial to the functioning of society. One-way streets aren’t turned into two-way thoroughfares without a lot of advance notice. Speed limits are not raised or reduced without sufficient warning to prevent disaster. Yet, these things happen.

Eggs are to be avoided in great quantity we are told because they contain too much cholesterol, but then we learn it might not be so bad after all. Too much fat in the diet is dangerous, they say. After some studies, however, it seems that a bit of fat is good, even necessary. On and on it goes.

So, maybe the saying should be: “The more things change, the more we must adapt.” We have been evolving for many millennia that way. Why change now?