Is change precursor to healing?

Change is in the air. I love those silly old phrases that nobody much says any more.

When you hear the word change now, it’s being batted about by the folks in the national political scene where both sides lay claim to it. I suppose they’re right, in the “change the baby” sense, where you wipe up a mighty, stinking mess and know it will be back the next day and the next.

I was thinking more specifically of the maples outside my window that have dressed themselves seemingly overnight in flaming leaves that almost cause my heart to stop, almost take my breath away, almost bring a tear to my eye. Change will do that to you.

My dear husband has been readying his family home for sale after the recent death of his stepfather, its last inhabitant. It’s a big letting go when you say goodbye to the largest tangible sign that once-upon-a-time your folks made a home for you with as much love as they could muster.

The writer, poet and political activist Grace Paley wrote a short story called, “Enormous Changes at the Last Minute,” a title I always remember when the inevitable sneaks up and surprises us, or when we hope for some deus ex machina to save us from ourselves.

I never met Grace but I always felt I was on a first name basis with her, as if somehow I was lucky enough to sit at her table watching her stir a pot of stew while she told me stories.

That didn’t happen. The years when I was meeting some famous writers and not a few of what I called “famous unknown writers,” Grace was on another coast writing her stories and essays and protesting nuclear armament and war and the general madness of our time.

In this particular story, her protagonist, Alexandra, is on her way to visit her invalid dad when she has a chance conversation with a cab driver that sets her life on a different course. Not just a detour, but a major change, the kind that births more than deaths can bring. Beyond anything else I know of, having kids will revise the path of your life.

This past Sunday in church, I watched a father holding his daughter who looked to be about 4 or 5, still small enough to pick up and hold, but on the brink of outgrowing even that small comfort.

A simple moment, but then my heart kind of cracked open. I didn’t see it coming, sitting in the sunshine as I was, happy to be warm, waiting my turn to step forward for Eucharist, thinking about nothing in particular.

But, somewhere in my body’s memory came a sense of my daddy holding me in just the same way. It must have happened, although I have no active memory of it.

I do remember him carrying my daughter. I was a young mother about to go on a long trip and leave my 2-year-old with my parents. She was understandably upset when we said goodbye. To distract and comfort her, my dad scooped her up in his arms, and off they went down the lane to look at the cows in the barn.

That’s the kind of image that stays with you, even though the cows and the barn and my dad are all gone now.

In Grace’s story, the man in the hospital bed next to Alexandra’s father dreads the future and is prone to ranting about imaginary disasters waiting to happen, such as leprosy being transported to New York City by immigrants.

In her wonderful style, Grace wrote: “Leprosy! For godsakes! ...Upset yourself with reality for once!”

That’s a line worthy of becoming an old saying. This seems like exactly the time to upset ourselves with reality for once.

It’s funny how we seem to go about our lives in a time of crisis, suspending not much of anything except maybe unnecessary spending or driving, which is probably a good thing. My neighbor tidies her yard, women make plans to form a knitting circle, babies get conceived, people die of natural causes. The leaves begin to change, yet again.

In one of Grace’s last interviews before her death a year ago, she listed what her dreams were for her grandchildren. “It would be world without militarism and racism and greed – and where women don’t have to fight for their place in the world.” I would also dream of a healthy planet, but I have a feeling if we have those other things, the world will quietly begin to heal.

Perhaps it’s already happening incrementally, like the chlorophyll in the leaves changing weeks before the full display of color erupts. Maybe we’ll wake up one day and be amazed at what has changed in our world so suddenly, so delightfully, at the last minute. I’d say we can only hope, but I think now is also the time for us to act.

Eve Leonard is an island writer and real estate agent

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