The hardest part about change isn’t that it happens to you. Of course it happens to you. You remember how breaking up with that guy made you see life from a different perspective. How quitting your job made you learn a new skill. You are a constantly evolving person and, for better or worse, you have learned to cope with change all throughout your life.
But do you realize change happens to those around you too?
Before you say “yes,” consider this anecdote from my childhood. I grew up in a family with six children. Separated from oldest to youngest by 13 years, you can imagine that we had a wide variety of personalities amongst the siblings. My oldest sister was the Care Giver. My brother, the Logical Scientist. Me, the Dreamer. My younger sister, the Lazy Genius. My youngest sister, the Hard Worker.
And then there was the Fashionable One, the older sister I just didn’t understand.
Growing up, the Fashionable One and I had little in common. I loved video games and comic books while she could care less about pop culture. She loved clothes shopping, while I wore the blue jeans and T-shirts. Our differences didn’t stop at our personal tastes. We squabbled constantly. She thought I was a brat. I looked at her as a demanding babysitter. When she went off to college, we both chose not to stay in close contact. I had my life, and she had hers. Sure, we saw each other at Christmastime, but our interactions remained within the realm of dinners and opening presents.
When I went to college, our relationship worsened. She had gone into dental school and offered to give my boyfriend a free root canal. My boyfriend cried through the whole thing, saying it caused him pain. I blamed her. She blamed me for not being grateful for her work. Our subtle pact to be indifferent to each other had blossomed into a deep distrust of one another.
Everything changed when I went through my divorce. I didn’t tell anyone I had separated and neither did my ex-husband, so not a lot of people knew what was going on. I had never felt so alone in my life. I withdrew into myself, only getting up to go to work. I’d slap on a happy face, do my job, then come home and fall into bed until the next morning. I told all of my family that things were bad and pushed them away, bitter and angry. I wasn’t really angry at them, but I lashed out anyway. Everyone kept their distance.
Everyone, except the Fashionable One.
She called me several times a week, most of the time not to even talk about the divorce. I felt grateful because I didn’t want to talk about it either. She told me about her 1-year-old son’s antics and it made me laugh. I would find a funny Hallmark card in the mail tucked in between bills and advertisements and put it on my refrigerator. She sent me some gas money to take a trip and told me to enjoy it. I used the money to go on a long hike and contemplate my life choices. It was peaceful and just what I needed.
The Fashionable One even came out to visit me. She dragged her husband and son across two states to watch me mope on the couch. She stayed for two days basically talking at me, planning on staying another day when I told her I wanted to be alone. I really thought she would be angry since her family had travelled over 5 hours with a baby to see me. But she wasn’t angry. She made an excuse about how she needed to get back anyway and almost made the idea sound like it was hers. She hugged me good-bye and continued to call the next week.
It wasn’t until I’d gotten over my divorce that I realized how much our relationship had changed. I had spent 28 years of my life largely indifferent to her, and she to me. Suddenly, she wasn’t the Fashionable One anymore. She was the Listener. I asked her why she had taken care of me, even when I pushed her away. She replied, “Because I hurt once too.”
My sister taught me something. Change isn’t a personal thing; it is a dynamic thing that touches you, me and everyone else. It redefines relationships and makes someone you never cared for your best friend. You might not see it because you have already put labels on people. The Arrogant Brother. The Complaining Co-Worker. The Indifferent Father. But sometimes, if we put forth a little effort, we can surprise each other and learn to get past our own labels.
I’m grateful my sister tossed away “The Brat” label and gave me a chance to become something else in her eyes. We don’t always agree on issues, but we’ve learned to accept one another. Besides, she’s fun to be around. She’s one of the most generous people I know. She has an awesome sense of humor. And she’s definitely not the person I thought she was while we were growing up.
Photo by Sean McGrath