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We’ve heard it, read it, or spoken versions of it:  “The only Constant is Change”. Scholars disagree on the exact wording of the original, but know that a man named Heraclitus was probably the first to make this observation in his writings around 500 BCE. Let that sink in and nurture your spirit for a minute:  we’ve been trying to figure out how to cope with Change for a really long time. It’s a natural and unavoidable part of the human experience, whether or not the changes feel good or bad. Some people thrive on and look forward to changes in their lives; but change brings uncertainty, apprehension and dis-ease to many others.

A certain kind of Change is particularly tricky for a lot of people; I’ll definitely include myself among those for whom Endings & New Beginnings are disruptive and distressing. In the past few years – maybe longer – the Endings in my life have felt like the freeway pileups we hear about, or are sometimes forced to bear witness to. Instead of twisted steel it’s more ‘emotional carnage’. One ending after another. A “domino effect’” of endings.

When Endings come fast and hard – regardless of whether or not they’re unexpected or anticipated on some subliminal level — they wreak havoc. An Ending may be the loss of a life, a job or lifestyle, a friendship, marriage or significant relationship. It can be a voluntary choice, or something imposed on us. Even in the most positive kinds of scenarios, Endings bring, among other things, the need to adapt to new feelings and circumstances. The crucial lesson we all learn about Endings is that there’s a process we must go through, at our own pace, in our own way, according to what feels right for us.

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I often think about how, as I grow older, most aspects of Life get so much easier as a result of clarity and wiser perspective. Nevertheless, Change is always lurking. When I’m faced with something really big – an Ending that’s rocking my world and shaking me down to the soles of my feet – I gravitate to people who’ve survived such changes and “lived to tell The Tale”. I want to understand. I want to feel that All Will Be Well; that the Ending will always be followed by a New Beginning. I want proof, in the version of someone else’s story.

Author William Bridges and his book “Transitions” (2nd ed.) is my go-to. Not only does Bridges reassure with Here’s Why You Feel What You Feel, but he outlines the process of self-renewal without sugar-coating what has to happen. Most importantly for me, lately, is the knowledge that following a Big Life Change, the body, mind, heart and spirit need a period of quiet time known as the Neutral Zone. As an example:  a  friend and I were sharing stories recently about our love of dogs. She’d lost a beloved Huskie she’d had for 15 years and went into a months-long funk. Her adult kids immediately began urging her to get a new pup.

But Mary pushed-back; she needed time to process her loss. The Neutral Zone (Bridges) is a period of rest, and also preparation for a New Beginning. Even if an Ending feels more ‘positive’ than ‘negative’, it’s still disorienting: it involves detaching from Something That Was, preparing to embrace What Comes Next. And whatever comes next may not be clear at all, when we want and need it to be.

I’ve gotten used to Change in my life; I’ve accepted that all manner of Endings will continue. My heart is lifted by the New Beginnings I know will come when I’m ready. In this period of rest and renewal, I reflect on Bridges’ words about  re-booting Hope:  “To make a successful new beginning, it’s important to do more than simply persevere. It’s important to understand what it is within us that undermines our resolve and casts doubt on our plans.”

I’ve always been one to pay attention to subtle signs in my daily life. Lately I’ve been seeing pregnant women everywhere. If I wasn’t so far past the nesting-stage of life, I might be concerned:  I can still recall how seeing puppies everyday at one point triggered the menagerie I have now !

I think what I’m seeing and feeling – perhaps how I’m choosing to interpret my senses —  in these (mostly young) women is Optimism. Having taken the leap myself once, I’m inclined to ask (silently, of course), “Are you sure you know what this means?” A tad bit late for that question, but still. Little Thing 1, 2 or 3 will be a lifetime experience, starting with the crapshoot of whose genetic code they’ll have and whether they’ll be pliant, sweet little darlings, or, what feels like a life-long Labor of Love.  Life is never the same after welcoming children into the world. It’s one of the Big Adjustments.

But Nature, in its wisdom, has a plan. In addition to those wonderful hormones that soon blur the memory of labor pains, everything and everyone around Baby takes a backseat, so that Life – for a while, anyway —  is rainbow-hued and harmonious in its rhythm. Without Optimism, we’d never make half of the momentous life decisions that we do. Which is why nurturing it is so helpful, at any age, in any circumstance.

The Irish essayist George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) has always been best-known for his keen observations and acerbic wit. Shaw was the first to write the statement (later modified by Oscar Wilde), “Youth is wasted on the young”. Shaw mused that so very many actions we take in our youthful experience are done blindly, haphazardly, and with a kind of idiotic hope. (Shaw had very existential leanings, along with similar thinkers of his time). Shaw’s fantasy, if I can for a brief minute give my own interpretation, was a wise and experienced mind inside a young, strong body. Yeah:  not going to happen until we all become bionic. Still, I take his point: it would’ve been really nice to know then – in my 20’s, say – what I know now, about Life.

 “Youth may (in more than a few ways, from a curmudgeonly perspective) be wasted on the young”, as Shaw wrote; but Optimism is not the sole property of any age group. Regardless of how many days might be left on the calendar (no one has a lock on that piece of information), feeling like each day is a clean slate, a new opportunity, a fresh “take” is always within reach.

When still an undergraduate, one of my favorite classes was a philosophy course I took as part of my General Ed. The textbook for the class, a ‘gem’ still in my library and well-thumbed, features an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson (another vintage thinker and writer that many others have since gently plagiarized).

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Emerson tells us how we can, every day, jump-start our Hope and Optimism. For me, attempting to nurture optimism in my heart gets a boost when I silence my Inner Critic. Here’s a snippet of Emerson’s “meditation” that I  keep by my bedside and usually close my day with:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

So gentle. So patient and understanding. So nurturing. So full of hope and optimism. Now — more than ever — words we need to breathe in, as we exhale our worries.