This first month of a new year, I’m thinking about change – who likes it, who loathes it, and about my conflicted relationship to it. I’m envious of people who began life with a childhood in one place, aware that my peripatetic childhood inclines me to motion. And I’ve always thought it a mistake to be so eager to change things in some way.
And then I read a wonderful article (here) by the novelist Jhumpa Lahirie about her passion for the Italian language, an obsession pursued so ably she can write eloquently in Italian (translated here by Ferrante’s translator). Lahirie says writing in Italian makes her a “tougher, freer writer, who, taking root again, grows in a different way.” She writes:
“One could say that the mechanism of metamorphosis is the only element of life that never changes. The journey of every individual, every country, every historical epoch – of the entire universe and all it contains – is nothing but a series of changes, at times subtle, at times deep without which we would stand still.”
Born in America to immigrant parents from West Bengal, Lahirie describes her mother as coping with that move by “a refusal to modify her aspect,” while Lahirie always felt for herself an “insistence on transforming.” Lahirie’s embrace of change is so strong:
“The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us. Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember. They give structure to our existence. Almost all the rest is oblivion.”
She ties change to her reason for art: “I think the power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching through a work of art, for something that alters us, that we weren’t aware of before.”
Lahirie acknowledges changes can be small – “at times subtle,” and they can be a “salvation or a loss” – maybe some of both. She finds much positive in the act of change itself. Viewing change as positive puts me in mind of the resistance born of negatives associated with change – risk and fear and their relatives.
I like Lahirie’s view better – making change happen with permission and encouragement!