I’m scrolling through CNN, looking for something really unique, when I spy an interesting tidbit. Apparently the earth’s magnetic north pole, which changes all the time, affects things like airport runways. Huh. I guess I never thought about the overarching implications of a little magnetic friskiness.
Change! There’s that word again.
Change is hard on us. We tend to like ruts, even if we say we don’t, because it’s nice to be able to depend on things. We expect the train to be on time, the alarm clock to blare at exactly 5:30 a.m., your spouse to always love you, your paycheck to always grow, and your pilot to find the runway. We even expect actors we see in a movie – especially child actors – to always look the same.
Ever notice what people tend to order at a restaurant? The same things, because there’s a familiarity, a past experience driving that dining moment. Your tastebuds … they’re in a rut. Think about how you feel if you visit your favorite spot, craving that spicy chicken salad with all the trimmings, only to discover – woo hoo! – a brand new, excitingly different menu with no spicy chicken in sight. Suddenly you’re like a deer in the headlamps – oh, no, don’t make me decide! Those tastebuds change only because they’re forced to.
But that’s the oxymoronic nature of change. If anything, it’s change itself that’s in a rut – it never stops.
As we get more experience (and by that I mean as we get older), change gets even tougher, even for those of us who once embraced it with gusto. Suddenly we seem to get a little more irked when we’re forced to make a course correction. We don’t handle the holiday dinner preparations as seamlessly, and a flash of irritation skitters down our spines when a friend calls at the last minute to cancel a lunch. Comments that once slipped off our backs now sometimes bully our emotions. Change throws us curveballs all the time, and regardless of whether we consistently hit home runs, there will be a time when we wake up and realize our batting average has dropped.
I’m getting there, myself, so I understand why the CNN article captured my attention. It talked about how the shifting of the earth’s magnetic north pole had affected the Tampa International Airport (yes, Florida), requiring it to recalculate the compass headings for one of its runways. Every five years, the FAA analyzes those magnetic changes and readjusts runways all over the country. On top of that, every 56 days it publishes new aeronautical charts for pilots. “The Earth’s magnetic fields are constantly changing,” FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. “It’s a very dynamic system so we make these changes effective every 56 days.”
If there’s something to glean from this, it’s that flexibility really matters, because trains can be late, alarm clocks wrong, and lovers and friends can drift apart. Pay raises – jobs – are never guaranteed, menus change. And actors? They age – unless they get facelifts – and their appearance changes.
If we anchor ourselves to a specific point in time, it’s not long before we’re sunk, left behind because the world doesn’t wait; it moves on. It changes. Something that’s mired in the mud simply doesn’t grow and develop.
Consider the beach. With each changing wash of water, grains of sand are constantly scattered into new constellations. Underneath the whitecaps, the kelp bends and flows with each undulating wave and remains vibrant and alive. The tides shift shells and rocks and creatures, and recreate a masterpiece each time.
The embattled pier – solid, immovable, subjected to continuous change – becomes a splintered piece of debris that ultimately disappears.
Funny, isn’t it, that some analogies themselves are changeable? Just as we lament its refusal to be flexible, we also laud that pier for being stalwart and strong, unbending and firm. Resolute, in other words. And just as we praise the fluidity of the sand, we turn around and castigate it for not staying anchored, for flitting, for being so tenuous.
I believe we need both qualities. We need flexibility to navigate our changing life and the living of it. We need resolution to know without a doubt who we are and what we’re about.
But today, flexibility dances to the forefront. It’s a beautiful dance, too, filled with balance and light and movement. With flexibility we can learn to accept – if not seek – change, to flow with it and let it flow through us, and to see where it takes us. It may be that we’ll discover new worlds, at least as long as the FAA can always locate the magnetic north pole and pilots find the runways.