Monday, October 8, 2012

New Landscapes

It seems odd to me these days to celebrate holidays on a specific day of the week rather than the specific date that had been the traditional one. Take Columbus Day. Growing up, we looked at the calendar on October 12th and knew that it was Columbus Day. Now you have to look at the little red notations under the dates on the calendar to find out precisely when Columbus Day is -- or is scheduled. Oh, it's nice to get a 3-day weekend, if your company or school offers it, but it wasn't so bad having a day off in the middle of the week either.  Still, I guess it's what the holiday is supposed to represent that matters.

Columbus Day celebrates a man, an idea and a journey. Christopher Columbus had an idea that there was a faster way to reach the riches of Asia than the traditional routes and, after a lot of talking, finally convinced the Spanish royalty that it would work -- and benefit them. Setting off in three small ships, he wasn't sure what he'd find, but he believed it was going to work - and, in a sense it did.  He didn't discover a new route to Asia but rather a new set of lands and peoples. It was a whole new landscape to be explored and whole new ways of doing things that needed to be learned.

It's not easy learning a new landscape, along with new ways of doing things and a new reality. For adventurers like Columbus, it's a challenge to be overcome but also a way of introducing and commanding their own sense of what was right and proper to be imposed on people and places that had their own way of doing life. The fact that the landscape was different than what they were accustomed to didn't mean a thing to them. It was their duty to make the new world work the same way the old one did, whether or not that was the best thing for the new or a reflection of the best of the old.

Columbus and most of his fellow explorers went looking for new things and, once they found them, promptly tried to change them to reflect what they had experienced in their own homelands. The Pilgrims did it, the Virginia Company did it, the Conquistadors did it, so have almost every group of people who set off to find new lives somewhere else. Oddly enough, I find that in a lot of church people who leave their old denominations and find a new one, only to want to bring parts of their old tradition with them. Vets returning from combat zones have learned a new reality and sometimes they can't just leave it at the airport and, stepping out the airport door on the way home, just take up life where they had left off before their deployment. Newly unemployed and/or homeless people have to learn a new way of living and coping, even if the landscape hasn't changed very much. The landscape may look familiar but seen through different lenses it is now a new, more hostile place that they have to figure out new ways of surviving.

Since my surgery I've been a bit like Columbus, learning a new landscape, trying to make things work the same way they always did and finding that it isn't always successful.  Looking in the mirror feels sometimes like seeing the first closeups of the moon from the moon lander in 1969; it looked a little familiar, especially if one has seen barren parts of the desert, but yet it looked very different as well. There are different levels of sensation in areas where there used to be a somewhat uniform feeling of nerves firing and touch registering. Where there used to be curves of one sort, now there are curves of another -- scar tissue forming, swelling, irritation. It's a new landscape and it is going to take some time to get used to it.

I hope, though, that I'm a little more flexible than Columbus. Just because it worked before (or "back home") doesn't mean it's going to work the same way now. I think I've accepted that, and I think I'm savvy enough to realize that changes and accommodations have to be made, most likely permanently. Perhaps the changed landscape might seem to be purely cosmetic or superficial, it represents a large upheaval in my life and a severe trauma to my body. It takes time to heal, and some of that healing might take some time. So?  What's the big deal?  The deal is about learning to live with drastic change, no more drastic than a lot of things in my life but drastic in its own way as each of the others were. It's about adjusting to living in a body different than it was several weeks ago, just as Columbus and his men had to learn to live (or try to) in a land very different from what they knew in Spain.  In a way, I'm just touching on a new landscape, a new way of living, and hoping that I'm smart enough to not just survive it but adapt to it and the changes it requires. I don't know that Columbus ever really got that.

Everyone has times when the landscape changes drastically and it feels like they're in a totally alien world. There are two choices -- adapt or stay stuck in something that doesn't work any more, doesn't feel familiar, and doesn't allow for foot-dragging. It can be a matter of life and death, not just physical death but death of preconceptions, familiarity, even habit. But that's how life works, whether one sets sail on an epic voyage or one simply walks into a hospital door.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. How open am I to that step and that journey?  How am I expecting to change the journey -- or have the journey change me?   I'm mid-ocean now, having gone too far to turn back, hoping I have the courage to move forward. At any rate, there will be change including new landscapes.

I wonder what the next chapter of the journey will bring?

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