At age twenty-two I was a young mother juggling three babes under four years old. One particularly chaotic morning I decided that I should design for myself a coat of arms; the motto on its banner would declare “ADAPTABILITY!” No; better yet, I found the Latin equivalent: “ACCOMMODARE!” It became my private battle cry, telling the world, “I can do this, I can bob and weave, I can take a tennis player’s stance, I can guard the rim, I can catch/ return/ fix/ deflect anything that comes my way; I can adapt!”

For example: one vacation (that’s when Mom gets to do all the chores with none of the appliances) in Upper Michigan in May (raining during the day, freezing at night), in a soggy canvas tent filled with two grown-ups, three energetic penned-up children (only one potty-trained), and a dachshund (unwilling to go pee in the rain). “ACCOMMODARE!”

Another example: my husband got a promotion to a new city. Sure, bring me empty boxes on Thursday and I’ll have the five of us (plus the dog and her five new puppies) moved into the new house on Saturday. Five months later, yet another new location? Eleven moves in seven years? No problem. “ACCOMMODARE!”

By the time I was forty-one my children were fledged. I adapted VERY well to the empty nest. Now most of the changes in my life (retreats, volunteering, college courses) were initiated by me, and it was my husband who wasn’t so sure he liked change.

Around age 50 menopause arrived, and physical changes came swooping in. I understand that many physical changes are wonderful. For instance, nearly every cell in our bodies is replaced almost continuously – I have entirely new skin every three weeks, my stomach is renewed every three days; my nervous system, I’m told, lasts a lifetime. But if so much renews itself, WHY do the wrinkles and sags and aches remain?

We are counseled to “live in the Now” – every moment, every click of the second hand on my office clock marks a Now, and another Now, and yet a different Now. I accept the wisdom of this spiritual advice – but still, every click of the clock, every Now, is a change to which I have to adapt.

The older I get, the more visible change becomes; and the more change is clearly inevitable, the less I like it. I’m in my seventies now, and sometimes I notice twinges of annoyance at even the tiniest change. Often dinner guests help in the kitchen, which is wonderful; and often they put things away where things would go in their own kitchens. So now, where is my jar opener? Where’s my favorite wooden spoon? And the measuring cup! Where the hell is my pyrex measuring cup?!

There is a way that I like things to be on the countertop: not lined up neatly, but in artistic groupings. (Is it possible that I’m feeling cranky about something THIS unimportant? Yes, it is possible.)

I like my books to stay in piles where I can find them because that’s where I put them last. The papers on my desk, too – those piles are my own quirky archaeological filing system.

And, damn it, yes, I want THAT brand of toilet paper, and I want it set to dispense from the FRONT not the back of the roll!

Even the cash-back kind of change sometimes annoys me, so I throw all the coins in the tip jar or the animal welfare donation box.

Of course I need to face the fact that change happens necessarily, and it happens constantly, and it happens (I believe, deep down) for the best. If it weren’t for changes, our glorious, mysterious multiverse would vanish.

Nevertheless, sometimes when I’m feeling curmudgeonly, and even though I know it’s futile (and would be fatal), I say, “Keep the change(s), won’t You? Throw change wherever Your celestial tip jar is. For just a little while I’d like for things to stay precisely as I want them and without changing one iota!”

Then, once I’ve gotten over my snit, I try to face the next Now with courage. I polish off my trusty coat of arms with its splendid banner. I shout “ACCOMMODARE!” And I carry on.


We seem to have a built-in resistance to change. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct of our ego. Some deep part of us fears that every change is a small death – what was, is no more. It’s a little rehearsal for the leave-taking from a life we didn’t ask for in the first place (or did we?) but now that we’re in it we cherish it. We only want things to run along smoothly, filled with the familiar, the comfortable, the usual.

When changes gang up on us like a school of piranha, we wonder who we’ll be when the change-fest/feast is over. Will anyone recognizable as “me” remain? What can we hold onto that is unchanging, even as those damnable fish are nibbling away at what we thought was certain?

I have just returned from a two-week trip to the south of England, to be with my daughter in Devon as she swirls in the huge school of changes called breast-cancer-and-mastectomy. The plan was for me to bring emotional support, help her with the complexity of her prescriptions and supplements, and do some administrative work that arose with her new circumstances, while a rota of friends would bring food and help with household tasks and the garden. This would leave Katheryn free to rest and heal, to tend to her physical therapy, and to ponder the difficult decisions about which medical treatments to choose following her post-surgery test results. It was a lovely concept, featuring all of us making the best out of unwelcome circumstances.

But change just wouldn’t leave us alone. The surgical site didn’t heal as planned. New medical concerns cropped up after lab tests. Frequently medical personnel rescheduled appointments at the last minute, leaving Katheryn scrambling to cancel plans, arrange for new rides to hospitals and clinics, undo help that had already been put in place. Computers rebelled with seemingly intentional malice. Wet laundry blew off the line in an unexpected gust. Side effects of pain medications blossomed. The cat food supply ran out. Email addresses and phone numbers were not accurate. The healing rest didn’t happen, the physical therapy got short shrift, the ominous deadlines for decisions loomed with no clearer wisdom than was had the day before.

I wondered to myself, How is it possible for anyone to cope with such changes? Especially on top of the earth-shaking changes to one’s sense of self that a dreaded illness brings? What do people do who are older, frailer, more alone, more confused, less capable than my daughter?

And then, just when I was getting into the rhythms of knowing how best to help Katheryn, and where the brown rice and toasted sesame oil are stored, and what is the best technique for rousting Orion (my 17-year-old grandson) in the morning, and how the damned smartphone works . . . another wrenching change: time to return home.

So who am I now, as the mother of a woman with cancer? Who am I, 5000 miles away from her? What will her life look like a year from now? What will mine? How do she, and I, and Orion, and all of us find the essential place in ourselves and in each other that is unfazed by change? Is there such a place?

I’m too jet-lagged to have any answers right now.

Just questions.

And a dim but certain knowing that the answers are close at hand.