It is this phenomenon of change that accords the present its value. It is what makes us seek our preservation so that we can have something from today, something familiar, when tomorrow comes. It is uprooting of a version of self to birth another that colors experiences and gives meaning to memories and hope. It is here that the future gains its significance – the ability to take what we currently have and make it into something new and ours too, whether or not it’s positive. It is this nature of ours to cast off deep-seated parts of ourselves, knowingly or not, to take on forms that ultimately mark our procession to another realm that defines what we all call life even though we all own different versions in the most similar way.
I think that in many ways change, especially tragic change, is abrupt. Even when the process seems slow, giving enough time to erase or unlearn some things one backspace tap at a time, the momentum gained is never enough to make relearning easy or healing swift. The weight of “alien-ness” is not something designed to be familiar neither is it permitted to be avoidable. How then have we not mastered the inevitable? How then can we find meaning in this?
It had been a year since I last saw her but I could almost bet she’d look the same – fair scalp clothed with short hair too curly to be Nigerian, skin still glowing from over seventy years of being polished with lemons and a smile still sterling like a crescent moon bringing youth to the old night sky. They had told me over the phone that she – my grandmother – whose mind was sharp as a pin was now experiencing age-associated memory impairment. I had spoken with her a few times to scold her over not taking her drugs but her resolve was always intimidating and I would always cajole and plead instead. So when I walked into her room, I was unsure of what to expect but was certain I would encounter something unexpected. She beamed when she saw me, my siblings and our friends and then rose slowly and reached out for me. I hugged her, making sure to bury myself in her familiar softness. I asked how she was and what had happened all this while and she told me everything except that most of it were unknown to her, resident in her imagination. My sister had already told me how our little cousin and his mum had come to visit her and how afterwards, she announced to everyone that her grandchild had come to show her his wife. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when she told me the same thing and how my father who had come the previous day to plead with her to take her drugs, had come to warn her sternly not to take any of her routine pills until he gave his approval.
Each time she said any of these bizarre things, my sister and I would share a look and silence that said “Old age is taking her away from us”. She had become a colorful tree in autumn, losing a leaf after another the more she said and thought those unreal things. After a while she turned to me and said in Igbo, “Nwadiuto (the name she calls me which means ‘Sweet Child’) went to serve her fatherland (referring to the NYSC program) for many years now and never came back, not even to see me. I smiled at her and said “I am here Mama” and that was when I saw that even she was before now, was not fully aware of how much of herself had been evaporating. She bowed her head and exhaled and was silent for a minute as though she was mourning the loss of her youth – herself. She looked up at me, smiled and patted my shoulder and then went on to tell us how she was no longer herself because she could no longer change into shorts and fight off anyone hassling her grandchildren.
I can see it already; how we all are scrambling for more time with her, making her promises that we hope would be potent enough to extend her time with us, trying to make room within ourselves to house the inevitable and hoping that our love, deeds and prayers are enough to elongate this path of relocation that she treads. We hope like anyone else would, that the more we care, love and live, the easier it would be for us all to transition into the space that we now prepare for her eventual absence. What is striking is that what is a slow march for us is a sudden fall for her – not being able to recognize her grandchild even after 45 minutes of sweet talk, seeing the young ones as adults and ignoring common sense on a whim. So as we seize the gift of time to make room for oncoming change, we must now remember that within her is a raging wind, ripping up elements of her that she once thought permanent and that these free spaces must be filled with positivity and enough of our presence to yield growth. You see, change, especially tragic change is always in some way, abrupt.
Like Anais Nin once said,
“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.
We grow sometimes in one dimension,
And not in another; unevenly.
We grow partially. We are relative.
We are mature in one realm, childish in another.
The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present.
We are made up of layers, cells and constellations”
It is sometimes in the bosom of anguish and discomfort that we are empowered to make room for ourselves to breathe and thereby grow in some way. Loss has popularized itself as unwanted and people have spent verve and time combating the occurrence of the inevitable. Society evangelizes strength in the face of tragedy and people are led to latch unto broken pieces of themselves, fastening them together with duty, memories and an exaggerated sense of loyalty. Herein lies the danger of a single story; clinging to what is now the past at the expense of allowing yourself room to accept that that absence is here to stay and can be filled with a legacy that will birth a more rewarding narrative. Until we begin to truly see how discomfort and insight from these experiences can spur growth, we would never be able to harness the potential that is embedded in change, no matter the kind. Our strength should show up in letting us feel emotions without consuming them ourselves because as hard as it is to accept, loss in itself doesn’t kill but grief does. It should show up in graceful acceptance of the present and objectively and radically applying resources within our reach to create value for ourselves, others and even the legacy of what we had just been lost. This applies not just to personal lives and relationships but to professional affairs and communal ones too. It is in our interpretations of events and reactions to them that we have the chance to make change – no matter the kind – precious and productive.