Wednesday, March 28, 2007

MY WHOLE LIFE CHANGED WHEN...

Those are storyteller's words, the kind of words that make you slyly tilt your head to steal the essence of someone else's conversation if you happen to overhear them in public. Or of if spoken directly to you, they are words that invite you to lean closer, to listen more deeply, to prepare to hear a secret.

The first time I heard them was in a wondrous little restaurant called The Good Harvest Cafe in Crescent City. Marilyn had recommended it, and since I was in her home town, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The huevos rancheros with avocado were the best ever.

But this isn't a post about food. This is about Serious Life Transformations, and the occasional necessity of eavesdropping to get them.

While Ted read the paper, I sipped my coffee and took in the scenery. The couple at the next table were middle-aged, and appeared to be on some kind of a date. Their body language was restrained, and they were telling each other their lives, as people do in that situation. Condensing. Highlighting. Perhaps embellishing a little.

Finally, the man said, "My whole life changed when I decided that every time I was tempted to complain about the state of the world, I would stop and do something instead. Even if it was something really small."

He then described how he'd moved into a subdivision where everyone drove bicycles instead of cars, and started some kind of solar company. (I'm fuzzy on the details, but being an eavesdropper, I wasn't allowed to ask questions.)

I'm not sure what his date who was eating buckwheat pancakes with no syrup and water thought about his story, but the eavesdropper who was devouring her huevos and sipping coffee from a huge mug has been thinking about it ever since. And in some small, but amazing way, my life was changed, too.

The second time I heard those mystical words was in Chicago at one of those sparsely attended readings that writers are supposed to find so humiliating. But if there had been more people present, I might never have gotten to hear Heather's story about her years in the peace corps in Bulgaria.

My whole life changed when I saw how people dealt with hardship in that country. If the power went out, which it did frequently, or they couldn't get where they wanted to go, or things didn't go their way, they didn't fume or yell at someone or wring their hands like we sometimes do. They just dealt with it. Living among them, I felt like I grew up.

Hmm...now that I think about it, her story wasn't all that different from the man in the Good Harvest Cafe.

And once again, my life changed subtly in the hearing of it.

The third time was also in Chicago (obviously a profound city) when a guest at my friend Susan's party told me her life had changed when her husband retired and decided to take a Great Books Course.

As the books he consumed altered, and excited her husband, the wife found herself growing hungry for what he had. She entered college and earned a degree in English Literature. Her only motive? A love of learning and an avid desire to open herself to the transformation truly great books offer.

So here it is, the existential question of the week: When was the last time your whole life changed?

54 comments:

Irene said...

even though I've had very intense and soul awakening moments in my life, I think that my whole life will eventually change when I stop thinking about God the way I think about my parents.

thank you for writing this post.

Marilyn said...

Labor Day 2003...when I started my first blog. EVERYTHING changed then...I just wouldn't realize it for a couple of years. ;) And how much do I love that Good Harvest has a role in this wonderful post? MUCH! ;) xoxo

daisy said...

Wow. What a question and I'm not caring for my answer. I'd have to say when I got married (almost 25 years ago) and when my daughter was born (almost 24 years ago). I may need to get to the business of living...

Susan Messer said...

I actually had to go away and think about this for a while because I'm the kind of cynical that thinks, at first, "oh, people's whole lives don't just change in a moment," but that was my neighbor Domenica who you described (about the books and reading), and I know that's true about her, so . . .

Then, suddenly, I was flooded by three moments of significance: (1) when my big sister sat me down to tell me that I needed to go away to college, and I felt angry at her for pushing me around, but I listened and did it; (2) when Jim and I were courting, and we were driving home after backpacking in the Smokey Mountains, and he said, "I'm not ready to make a commitment," and usually I would have been crushed by such words, but instead I said, "Can't you think of something more original?"; and (3) when my friend Etta cajoled me to come to the writers' teas she was hosting, and I said, "I'm not a writer. I'm an editor," but she kept after me, and made me come.

Left-handed Trees... said...

The LAST time? Oh, that's so much harder than highlighting older ones! The LAST time my whole life changed was in January 2006 when I told the whole truth and nothing but about a very old skeleton from my closet. In the time since, I am absolutely incapable of lying about or hiding anything anymore. It is amazing...now I say no when I don't really want to do something, I let myself be silly and embarassing because I'm not trying to keep up appearances, and I am real for the first time. All because I used my voice...ah, the power of words, right?
Love,
D.

colleen said...

My whole life changed when I yeilded to something big that I didn't want to do. I needed a crowbar to make me leave Massachusetts. I loved my job, my life, and being close to my family, but when I yeiled to a move to Texas because my husband at the time had work there, I felt a shift and my life opened up in new ways. It was painful (and still is sometimes) and I was homesick, but looking back I know I wouldn't be who I am now if I stayed. In taking that plunge I was saying YES to the rest of my destiny... Floyd, Joe...freelance writing and all of it.

That wasn't the last time my whole life changed but more of an example of a major forst shift that allowed others.

colleen said...

Part 2: My whole life changed when my brothers died in 2001. It was like a fire was set beneath me, like everything in my life was in preparation for that point and a gun shot off to signal GO! The writing of the small locally published book about my brothers that followed CHANGED my life profoundly and opened in ways I never could have imagined. I also live differently since losing them. I take less for granted and I try to see life through the eyes they no longer have.

Thanks Patry for your curious nature and for making me think and feel.

Sara said...

Okay, this is creeping me out. In your last post, you blogged about a yellow kitchen on the same day that I baked something lemon-flavored in a yellow kitchen and then blogged about it. Today, you are blogging about life-changing events, and I've just spent half my morning commenting and then blogging about a device that changed my life, the Chef'n brand Switchit™ double-ended silicone pastry brush.

I guess for me it's always about food. ;)

Fred Garber said...

This morning when I got up from my morning meditation, got dressed and walked outside and heard the birds singing. Or maybe it was when I ate sombody elses macaroni and gravy last night. Or maybe it was just now when I read your post. Thanks Patry!!!

K-Oh said...

Funny, I just blogged about this the other day. The last time my life changed in a moment was when someone asked me if I wanted to write a book for someone who lived in Afghanistan and I said, "Why would I-- but wait, does it mean I'll have to go to Afghanistan?" The answer was yes, and so I said yes, and a huge door swung open. Going there (twice) changed the way I look at the world, the way I look at the possibilities in any one person's life, and made me realize that things that seem rooted in concrete can change, in an instant.

Patry Francis said...

irene: What an intriguing comment--in so many ways. I especially like that you can see the change even before it's happened.

marilyn: That was life-changing for me, too, though I didn't know it would be. For one thing, if I hadn't started the blog, I never would have been in The Good Harvest! In fact, I'd still be a woman on Cape Cod who'd never seen the Pacific Ocean.

daisy: Marriage and motherhood may have happened 20+ years ago, but I'm willing to bet that both still change your life in new ways on a regular basis.

susan: As you can tell, I was quite inspired by your friend, Domenica--as well as several others int he fascinating group you assembled.

I especially liked your number 2. To me, it translates as realizing you never have to be crushed by another's words again. You can talk back to them, and maybe even change the result.

And of course, I'm now feeling much indebted to your friend, Etta.

delia: Just reading your liberating words could make anyone feel more courageous. It reminds me of the time when I made the decision to just be myself--not to feel as if I had to hide the fact that I was a waitress from my writer friends, or
my crazy writer dreams from my waitress friends. And you know what happened? No one cared. The Maybe-I'm-not- good-enough, or Maybe-I-won't- fit-in feelings were all in my own mind!

colleen: As much as I wish you were still down the street in Hull, it's so clear that the real Colleen who inspires and delights so many every day flowered and continues to do so in Floyd. I love the way you've kept your brothers alive in some way--allowing people who never met them (like me) to feel their charm and courage, and even experience some of the pain of their loss. THat is the true power of the word.

sara: Of course, you know that every time you make a "must have" recommendation, I immediately go and buy it. I don't even bake much these days, but now after reading about the pastry brush, I suddenly feel that my life won't be complete if I don't have one.

fred: The birds change my life every day too...not to mention just thinking about your wife's cooking.

k: Now I have to know more! Though it's not obvious, I see a definite connection with your first book, Stalking the Divine--which I recently read for the second time.

Dupa Jasia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sara said...

heh heh heh -- So I guess I haven't steered you wrong yet, eh? Good!

Of course, like any pastry brush, this one has many uses besides brushing egg white on cookies and scones before baking, though it's so trouble-free you may find yourself doing more of that or even (like me) inventing recipes that will give you more excuses to do things like that. It's quite heat-resistant, though, so you can also use it to brush liquid or goo of any kind on anything you might be cooking, including roasting or frying meats and vegetables.

I think it comes in yellow, too. Incidentally. ;)

zhoen said...

Not the last, but the first, was the moment I woke up, at 0300, on a bunk in a dark room with at least a score of other women, nothing inside me, having laid down to sleep on the squeaking springs fully dressed, realizing that all the rules and expectations and assumptions I'd lived by were swept away, and I was in a new reality. I thought, Well, huh.

I dropped the old fears, the old reactions, the old pretend life, and breathed new.

As for the last, you've given me at least three posts. Thanks.

Again.

Patry Francis said...

sara: Maybe you're right; maybe the right pastry brush could lure me back to the kitchen. Or maybe I need to paint it yellow first?

zhoen: Somehow, I sense that transforming moment at 0300 in everything you write. I like how you describe it. Well, huh. Can't wait to read those next two posts...

rdl said...

Summer of '05 when i dropped the "D" bomb- brought up the subject of divorce. once you let the horse out of the coral...

But the major life altering event hands down would have to be when my son was born of course.

rdl said...

of course then there was that time i stopped in Amherst. :D

Sustenance Scout said...

This is not the last time, but the one I most treasure: The summer day in 1988 when my mother stood on her front porch, said "I hope you find what you're looking for," and watched me drive off in my new Ford Escort that I hardly knew how to drive. It was standard, and I coasted through every toll both between Syracuse, NY, and Hartford, CT, where my sweetie waited. Two years later we married and now nearly 17 years down the line I'm reminded daily that while I may not have known what I was looking for at age 22, I most definitely found it.

Patry Francis said...

r: I will always remember the two of us crying on the phone the day Luke was born, and that fateful day in Amherst, too.

k: Do you have any idea how much I love that story? I especially love the Ford Escort you hardly knew how to drive, but which took you exactly where you needed to go. Who says there aren't mysterious guiding forces in the universe?

tammy vitale said...

My whole life changed when I read "Women Who Run With the Wolves." It sent me off in search of Jungian understanding of mythology, then fairytales, then consciousness studies, then a master's in story and social change (Goddard College in Vermont which was another world shaking experience)which took me through quantum theory as it applies (and was just starting to apply at that time) to social theory. It taught me, as does your post, the power of the stories we tell ourselves and each other, including our national stories (America: land of rugged individualism - as long as you look and sound like "us.")

rdl said...

I just thought I really shoulda said in VT at (? forgot name - help me here) when i met this nice woman slinging drinks and hiding out back with me. :D

Anonymous said...

I was at a funeral on Monday and, like many people, left feeling like the deceased really lived his life. It made me feel guilty for spending too much of mine in hiding, and I've vowed to do more, live more, socialize more.

Off to do yoga, then do something...

xoxo,
Tish Cohen

The Curmudgeon said...

The last time would have to be last month (is it only last month?) when I had the health scare of my life and immediately scheduled major surgery.

Only I don't know (yet) how it's changed -- because I'm still busy trying to get back to normal.

(Hmmmm. If everything changed, how do I expect things to get back to normal?)

The least profound person in Chicago, your friend, Curmudgeon

Patry Francis said...

Tish: It always seems to be people like you who live MUCH, and give even MORE who are constantly being inspired to expand...I'll be tapping you later for a line for this week's one-line obituaries!

curmudgeon: I can almost hear the change in the "voice" of your comments and on your blog--and I'm afraid to say it's a profound one. What is it about Chicago that seems to make you all think so deeply? The cold? The presence of water all around you? The amazing architecture maybe?

rdl said...

The Chopping Block!! ?? i think.

The Writers' Group said...

When I woke from a coma and realized just how ordinary dying really is.

Amy

Patry Francis said...

r: Yes, The Chopping Block. I can still remember navigating those crazy crowds with a tray full of drinks. How did we do it?

Amy: A great writer's trick, as I'm sure you know, is to always leave your readers desperate to hear more. Thanks for reminding me exactly how it's done. *I'm also wondering if this somehow connects with the premise of your novel.

Susan said...

I'm sending Domenica over to read your blog.

Patry Francis said...

susan: Make sure she sees the flowers in our pie photo!

Sky said...

not the last time, but a very important shift in my journey: the moment i arrived in seattle, washington during my first visit to the area, my life changed course. it was clear within 72 hours that i would live here one day.

as you might have guessed, the last time was when circumstances knocked me on the head with a hammer and told me that i better begin to live more healthily!

gerry rosser said...

June 13, 2002.
I was in the hospital with my Spouse Equivalent. Her daughter was about to give birth. She did. A little angel appeared, and she hasn't stopped changing my life for the better since.
Pretty sappy and mundane, perhaps, but for a childless man a very big deal. I wish I could offer up something more exotic or deeply philosophical, but I can't.

Patry Francis said...

sky: As you know, we fell in love with Seattle in a similar way when we were there. What an amazing city! Meanwhile, hope your health regimen is producing great results by the day. Miss you!

gerry: It may occur every day, but I can't think of anything less sappy or mundane than the birth of a child. The fact that your life-changing angel was not connected to you by blood makes your story even more powerful.

KG said...

Such a GREAT question. There are all the big moments that pop to mind immediately (like marriage and giving birth), but I like to believe that profound change like this can happen in any moment.

So today, a friend and I had a conversation about someone we were concerned about. Then through the conversation, we understood her better. Now we're resolved to reach out to her. Our world changed, now maybe hers will, too.

tinker said...

Hmm...there actually have been a few of those moments on the journey, in recent years, but probably the latest and most significant one, was when I started blogging a year and a half ago.

Pearl said...

Life has a lot of pivot points. What an empowering one you had to learn to redirect into action.

One that I can still hear is this curled sneer of disgust from a friend when I was a teen saying "everyone doesn't think like you do you know. You don't know everything". I was totally shocked. I was genuinely sure I nearly did. Ahhh, youth.

robin andrea said...

When we retired and moved to the pacific northwest in 2004, we started to live the kind of life we always planned, but something new happened. I picked up a camera and started to photograph wildlife. Something I had never done before, and it is now something I do everyday. It has taught me to be very quiet and patient, to see the world differently, to listen.

herhimnbryn said...

Moving to Australia.

melba said...

What a wonderful question and interesting comments!

My whole life changed when Ethan was born. not just because I became a mother, but having Ethan set in motion a series of events that led me to where I am today...

I would be on a much different path if I did not have Ethan when I did...even if I did eventually become a Mother, I don't feel I would have sought out something more which led me to blogging...

XO,
Melba

Patry Francis said...

kg: Empathy is always the beginning of the greatest kind of change; it also seems to be a slippery thing. Just when we think we possess it, poof! At least, that's how it works for me.

tinker: Blogging was a huge one for me, too.

pearl: Redirecting has been my challenge since I got home. Ever since I eavesdropped on that date in the Good Harvest, I've been hearing that man's voice, and trying to turn every complaint into an action. Not easy! I never knew how often I was inclined to complain!

robin: You've also shared that quiet and patience with so many of us. Just today, I was excitedly showing off your bobcat to Ted. (He was most impressed.)

herhimnbryn: What an adventure! Where did you move from?

melba: I like the way you describe it. The thing that changes your life is not one thing. It's a chain of events and decisions, each one leading to the next...

Patry Francis said...

Tammy: I don't know how I missed your comment the first time I looked! Maybe I needed to wait till 2 a.m. Sunday morning to read it in the right spirit. I love that your change began with a BOOK, and that it ends--or I should say--continues with stories.

p.s. I almost enrolled in a program at Goddard College at one point myself. We might have met if I had, but apparently, like this comment, that meeting had to wait for the right time and place: the blogosphere.

Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

My whole life constantly seems to be changing ... it often feels like a child's kalaidascope that you turn and the colours and patterns shift. JP

Therese said...

Patry, I love these thought-provoking posts...

I've had a lot of life-changing events (plenty of story fodder!) but the most recent, of course, was the sale of my novel.

Over one weekend I went from aspiring writer, to author.

You know how it is. :)

Patry Francis said...

deborah: A kaleidescope...I like that image; and yes, that's how it often feels. I wonder if you get a chance to choose your own vision.

Therese: Someday we have to get together and compare notes on that amazing moment! `

kenju said...

My whole life changed when I started attending church again three years ago. I realized how much I had missed it, and even though the one I attend now is vastly different from the one I grew up in - it fills my soul and makes it whole.

Patry Francis said...

Kenju: Sounds like the kind of church experience many are hungry for.

bleeeeeeeeeeeeeee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patry Francis said...

spam filter goes up tomorrow...

SusansPlace said...

My whole life changed when my boyfriend, one day to be husband, was killed in a gun accident. I was 20. My future as I foresaw it was over in the split second it took for that bullet to lodge in the worst possible place. It's been 30 years and I went on to graduate from college, work in the business world, marry, have four children, homeschool them, have many wonderful experiences and painful experiences but the future of my 20 year old dreams changed in so many ways, that fateful day 30 years ago.

Susan

herhimnbryn said...

I moved from the UK. I found another me in this sunburnt country!

Patry Francis said...

Susan, We spend so much of our lives thinking the world is one way, and that it will continue to be that way. It seems those illusions were shattered for you at a young age. Thank you for sharing your story here.

Patry Francis said...

herhimnbryn: "this sunburnt country" is a very evocative phrase. It SOUNDS like a place where someone could find
"another me."

Anonymous said...

very thoughtful post, patry!!! i will have to mull this one over for a bit! ~ruby

paris parfait said...

My whole life changed when I went to live in the Middle East - and through all my travels and getting to know people, discovering that we are all more alike than we are different and that nearly every problem can be solved with dialogue. And blogging - it kickstarted me into writing every single day, no matter what. And of course all the inspiration from other bloggers such as yourself doesn't hurt one bit. xo

Anonymous said...

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