“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours.”
This is a favourite quote of mine from sci-fi author Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full Of Sky, a book that was given to me by a friend who insisted that I should read more than one author at a time.
Since arriving in Malaysia in 2015, I’ve had the chance to reflect on what change means to me in real time, rather than as an abstract thing. It’s interesting when I go back home: part of me expects everything to remain the same – of course, it never does.
In the three years since I last went back to Scotland, there have been several significant changes. My dad moved out of the family home and now lives in a scenic coastal town. My nephew Liam is a father to a handsome two-year-old boy, and Liverpool might be in with a chance of winning the English Premier League this year.
All of this has taken some getting used to and, as with all change – the good times, the difficult moments, and the unexpected – it’s important to take time to think about where we fit into the scheme of things and to process how we feel.
I’m hoping to head to Scotland next year, which will be my first visit home since 2016. As I write the word “home”, I notice I feel that I’m not entirely sure where that is. My mum used to talk a lot about the importance of home, of “laying down roots” which, at the time, I thought was the stuff of old-fashioned nonsense.
Now, I understand what she meant. To have a home is to have a place where you feel secure, to have a place where you belong. It’s somewhere that appears fixed in a world that’s constantly changing.
When I was growing up, I hated change, and I'm still not a big fan. I would resist any kind of change that I could, and would feel devastated whenever something major happened that I couldn’t control. Life “should be” the way we want it to be. It’s a logical desire; after all, we all want to be safe and secure, and to feel sure about where we belong.
Not long before my mum died in 2010, I came across a teaching by the late Buddhist monk, Ajahn Chah. He was talking about the inevitability of change, and that our suffering comes not from change itself but from our rigid expectation that life should give us something it never can.
Listening to the great master’s teaching that all things are impermanent, a disciple questioned Ajahn Chah on his apparent attachment to a favourite drinking glass he enjoyed using.
The monk replied, “It’s true, I do enjoy using this glass. I like the way it holds the water and how it creates tiny rainbows when the light shines on it. This is my favourite glass, but I’m not attached to it. It’s already broken, so my time with it is precious – but also fleeting.
“So I enjoy the glass while I can. I know it’ll eventually fall off the shelf, or someone will kick it over and it’ll shatter. Then I will say, ‘of course – that’s the nature of the glass’.”
I find many of Ajahn Chah’s teaching’s to be profound, but this one really hit me. I recognised that, when we hold on too tightly to what we enjoy in life – our pleasures, possessions, the people we love – we can become so fixed on the fear that we might lose it, or that it might change, that we lose sight of cherishing what we have while we have it.
We all know, for example, that the people we love will one day die, and that’s something that each of us will have to deal with regardless of who we are. It’s a horrible thought, but hopefully it wakes us up to the message that Ajahn Chah tried to share: That everything we enjoy is temporary, and so we should treat our time with the things we enjoy and the people we love as being precious.
In our busyness, we can often forget to appreciate the blessings we have in life, but we get the luxury to forget only so many times before that inevitable change comes along.
It’s hard to believe that it’s almost a decade since my mum died, and almost as difficult to believe that my baby nephew is now a father (he’s also 23 years old). But I realise that even the most difficult or unexpected changes serve as timely reminders to be grateful for what we’ve had, what we now have, and the blessings that are still to come.
Change happens regardless of how we react to it. It’s just a matter of whether we choose to focus on the fear of what we will one day lose, or spend our time being present for the opportunity to love, cherish and enjoy our favourite things and people around us.