Clippings: A youthful malady, multiplied by age

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.”  I’m reminded of that 1971 David Bowie song — the title, at least; not that I ever got the lyrics at age 17 when it first came out or 39 years later. Something about “time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”
Certainly time changes people, but what is this notion about not being able to “trace time”? Is it that you can’t change what has been; you can’t relive the moment? That time’s not a do-over?
That would be an appropriate message for young graduates from high school or college as they head off to higher education or the start of their careers. Make the most of what time you have, we tell our sons and daughters; you get one shot at each phase of life; each moment, and each day is more precious than you think.
Youth’s bounty, of course, is time; and like most things in abundance, it is freely spent. For those of us in mid-life, we know it’s the one luxury there’s just too little of.
And there’s the song’s youthful conceit of introspection: “strange fascination, fascinating me … ah, changes are taking the pace I’m going through.”
I’m sure when I first heard this song as a high school graduate preparing to attend college, I thought I was facing monumental changes at lightning speed. Compare that time in my life to my parents, who were solidly ensconced in the community and their careers, and (as all pre-adults must imagine) our lives seemed so much more unsettled with change knocking at every door.
Ironically, four decades later, change happens — not slower, as I had once imagined — but faster than ever.  And while the uncertainty of change can be a youthful malady, the secret is that change multiplies with age.
The fallacy of mid-life is that raising a family and progressing through a well-planned career is another way of saying you are on a slow and steady road to retirement and stability with the annual family vacation to keep things sane. Wake up at 6:30, get the kids to school, go to work, gather the kids after school activities, make dinner, read the newspapers, go to bed. Repeat.
Hah! The joke’s on us. What sociologists forgot to tell us is that life has a way of snowballing, one event on top of another, one volunteer board followed by another, one more sleepover, one more career change, one more doctor’s visit or auto accident or advancement in training, or another change at work. And the more active you are, the more events and changes you take on.
Oh, look out you rock ’n’ rollers
(turn and face the strain)
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get a little older.”
Sure enough, if you’re lucky, you get older… and the types of changes seem to grow exponentially.
What young graduates think of change is reflected in whole of their micro-universe — defined, to a large degree, by those four words — me, myself and I. Their challenge is singular (what will I do with myself), which is not to diminish its importance or relevance.
But once that question is successfully resolved and life follows that path, change takes on many different faces that usually have to do with community and the environment in which we live. We start to tackle larger dreams about how we can (figuratively speaking) help save the world, change the public’s attitudes, restructure life as we know it or at least make it run a bit better. We get involved on community boards, our schools, local or state politics, business community, fire departments, social groups, religion. The challenges expand and with that so do the constant changes that must be addressed.
Just how is it we help our schools provide our kids with the best educational opportunities available in an ever-more-challenging world? How do we compete in a rapidly evolving digital landscape that suddenly encompasses the world? How do we live with a lighter carbon footprint? And on and on.
As Bowie said: “Turn and face the strain.”
I get that part, and have learned to do it with a smile, but the idea of “tracing time” still boggles the mind. Maybe it is the difficulty of being able to track the changes in our life when we feel like we’ve always been the same person? Or maybe it’s the struggle to gain a perspective of ourselves through the objective lens of time passed, but never quite being able to bring that portrait into focus because we are constantly changing?
Maybe that lack of clarity explains the stutter.

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