My daughter, after a long two hours of not being able to have skin-to-skin time with her mother, finally got the opportunity. She was strewn with leads to monitor her heart-rate and breathing, her nose was attached to an oxygen tube that made her look like a tiny rhinoceros, and an ugly IV was taped to her arm to ensure she would get enough nutrition. A tangle of cords, a new human life. What is a new father to do but take a picture and share in the moment?
I ponder this recent memory from home now, of course. The baby had to stay in the hospital in the ICU due to the fact she had water in her lungs and did not breathe on her own consistently to start. She was born on a Saturday and sprung on a Thursday. Her momma and I have just experienced the first 24 hours as parents independent of nurses. I’m writing this tired but I’ve got to write something. Like the quote from Flannery O’Connor says on the bottom of my website, “Not-writing is a good deal worse than writing.” Even though I’m missing sleep, I know I’ll miss more without taking the time to put my thoughts into words. It is a happy routine of mine.
People go through big changes all the time in their life; first they go to school, then they stop going to school, they get a job, maybe they get a degree, they get a spouse, they get a baby, they get a house, etc. People are constantly in an ebb and flow of change. Like caterpillars, we start crawling on the carpet one way and the next thing you know we’ve gradually morphed into something totally different, hopefully something beautiful. You are now not the same thing you were ten years ago. Not even the same thing you were five years ago.
But we forget that.
We whisper maxims to each other about how “life is change” and we constantly remind ourselves of its power. You’d be scarce to find a single non-fiction book from a modern author in the Business section without finding some chapter on the concept of change, or some platitude about the importance of “rolling with the punches”. People say it all the time. Have you ever wondered why people say it all the time? People say it not only because it’s true, but because we keep forgetting that it’s true.
Besides the constant flow of change that pervades every aspect of our lives, there is a unique human desire for routine. And I don’t mean things as simple (yet wonderful) as the habit of having a cup of Green Tea to start your Friday mornings, I mean the routines we deeply seek to have on a beyond-physical realm. We wish to find happiness for instance—we search for the secret to contentment. There is routine in contentment almost by definition. Those who are content are only considered content if they continue to be content in the face of life’s changes. We wouldn’t call ourselves a happy person unless we were consistently (or routinely) happy. Contentment is an evenly keeled line against the maddening vibrations of life, and that is something only attained via a sort of mental routine, or a spiritual one, if you will. The point is that besides being constantly under the barrage of change, we as sane humans still long for the sweetness of routine. Even if that routine is to experience something different or exciting more often, what we long for is routine.
The thing that people say less often as a maxim but still experience just as much is the notion of personal change. Not only do things change, such as the circumstance of life (having a baby, getting a new job, etc.), but our persons change. Like I said with the caterpillar example, we change as much as our surroundings do.
See, there is new life in my household and this is what I think is worth meditating about. Not that life is going to change for me as I know it—but rather that I am changing… You are changing even as you read this, perhaps.
Having that knowledge is serious business if you have any belief in a higher power, or understand such a thing as Natural Law, or perceive there to be even a fragment of morality in this entire wide universe. If you think it’s wrong to kill someone over a lollipop than it means you have a conscience. You have a moral compass and you are one of these people I am talking about.
Because you are changing like the caterpillar, you, your very self, are a participant on this plain of morality. You, as a chooser in this world, are gradually changing not just “’cause that’s what people do”, but you are changing horizontally. You are either becoming more virtuous or more vicious. Your routines are becoming more life-affirming and charitable or they are becoming more full of vice. There is no such thing as not changing in one direction or the other; your ship has sailed from the dock—it’s either getting closer to harbour or it ain’t.
I’ll leave you to finish this article with a thought from C. S. Lewis. Being a Christian, Lewis was quite partial to the ideas of autonomy and consequently, the ideas of consequence. Nothing drives home the point of existing on a moral plain better than the imagery of heaven and hell. Whether you believe in them or not, they resonate. From his book, The Weight Of Glory, he says this:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Lewis always had a way with imagery. Today, as a new father, I recommit myself to the understanding that I am a changing man. More importantly, I recommit myself to the act of changing for the better. One day my daughter will look back on her life with me and judge whether or not I was a good father, she will judge whether or not I was a good man. In all likelihood she will not be the only judge, but as far as motivation goes…
Does a man need anymore than that?