So, when I was twenty one, I was in the middle of a separation that would end in divorce, in the middle of a custody battle, in the middle of not knowing anything about myself, really. I knew what I believed: I believed I knew what love was, I was agnostic and regularly attended church; I believed that vaccination was something everyone did, I believed in abortion if there was a good reason, I believed that people should value loyalty over everything else, I believed that I had a clue about what it meant to be a parent, I believed that I knew what my political beliefs were. I believed, honestly and sincerely, that men and women were equal and that we didn’t need any more work in that area.
Clearly 21 yr old Anna was a dick who was wrong about a lot of stuff. But, she was also quite lovely. She did what she thought was right. She tried to help people, and she was passionate. 40 year old Anna may also be a dick. I think I know what love is, now. I am an atheist, I believe that vaccination is a minimum right of every child, I believe that access to free and safe abortion is a literal human right, I believe that people have to do what is right for them even if it sometimes causes me pain; I believe that parenting is the hardest journey I have ever been on and after 23 years of doing it I still have no idea if I am doing it right, my political position is that we need major change and soon. I clearly no longer believe that equality has come close to being achieved.
So what will 60 year old Anna believe and think about these things and the myriad other things that arise in the course of day to day life? I don’t know, exactly, but I have high hopes for who she will be.
How do we go from being who we were to who we are? What does that journey look like? How many times have I had to quietly retract statements that I had passionately delivered while I now cringe to think I ever thought them, let alone said them out loud as a statement of fact. In my life I have been racist, sexist, homophobic and intolerant; I was ignorant, and I have learned better, but I do wonder what things I am saying now that I will later regret and look back on in horror.
(Side comment: Also how do you back out of that ridiculous awful position you stood on with certainty? How the fuck do you undo the damage you did with the naive and aggressively wrong assertions you at some point thought were completely rational? I wish I knew, because at this point, every word that comes out of my mouth is followed by the ghostly thought of “What if that is wrong? What if it is hurtful or damaging?” Maybe I should play that thought first, and save the speaking for after the thought…. an interesting notion of personal responsibility there… )
Anyway, I digress. My point here is how do we go from being the person who actively considered it to be wrong to have an abortion if you hadn’t used contraception or been raped, to a person who fights for women’s reproductive rights at every opportunity? You experience life. Your beliefs are challenges by stories and reflection and the realization that truth is a flexible construct. Your truth and my truth can both be true, and still be different! We can experience the exact same moment, and have completely different perceptions of what happened in that moment!
This fuckery means that we can become completely different people in a single moment… or sometimes, like I have we just wake up one day vaguely aware that we are not who we used to be. Ideally we will like who we are now better than we liked that old version of us, but sometimes it must go the other way: Somebody somewhere just woke up and realized that they are a right wing capitalist pig with nothing to recommend them at the pearly gates, unless the same thing happened to this guy:
When I try to trace it back, it gets really complex cause, I get stuck on the minuitae: Holy crap did I really think that? When I said/did that, was I temporarily insane? What the fuck did anyone hand out with me for?
The thing is that as we go through life, we are presented with choices: Choices about what we will stand up for and what we will avert our eyes from. What we will be angry about and what we will be disappointed by. What we will challenge and what we will ignore. Who we will love and who we will walk away from. Who is more important to us. Who we love. Who we hate. And every single one of those choices changes us. One day, we are unrecognizable.
Have you ever run into someone you used to know, and discovered that they are exactly the same? That they haven’t changed… that they are the SAME. How did that sit? Were you excited to renew the friendship, or horrified by the stagnation of that person, and what it told you about who you used to be? Have you ever realised that someone you love, your best friend, your lover, your colleague… is just not what you thought they were? Who changed? Them? Or You?
And how did you feel as you walked away from that understanding? Was it a relief or a crisis? Who we are, who we become, what we are… they are never constant. Even the most integral parts about us can change over the decades, making us stronger,weaker better, harder, colder, warmer, more connected and more distant…. So when we encounter a person who is the same, it often challenges us to find what they have changed…. maybe they have changed but none of the things that had changed happened to come up in that interaction. Maybe they put on a false face because they don’t trust who you might have become…. who knows.
When it is a best friend or a lover, though… That is hard. You have to decide how you are going to respond to the change. When I found out that my best friend had changed in a different direction to me… when I realized that she honestly believed that rape could be the victims fault, and that if I had fought harder, I would’ve been safe, that she was angry at me for that experience, I knew I couldn’t change her truth. She may change, and one day, she might realize what she said to me that day, and regret it. Maybe she will apologise.. maybe our friendship will recover. Maybe not. But my choice, on that day, and evry day since was not to expose myself to that belief. So I lost a friend, who I had loved. Maybe because she changed, but more likely, because I did. When my other best friend told me that I was the only person who made her feel bad about herself…. I had to decide whether I was willing to stay cast in that role, or walk away. I walked away. I miss her, and I think sometimes she misses me too…. but whichever one of us changed, it wasn’t healthy for either of us. In both these cases, other people have asked how I could be so cold and just cut people out of my life…
But, that wasn’t how it was for me. For me I was devastated… and really believed I was doing the right thing. And I grew from it. I was more cautious and more open. I became more honest and more direct, and walk away earlier if I see that I am making things worse for someone. It became a part of my story… I don’t shy away from the fact that at one point in time, younger me was such a dick that she made her best friend feel judged. I don’t forget that the same woman who told me my rape was my fault also held my hand through my fathers death. We change. We grow. We become different people. Sometimes we grow together, and sometimes we grow apart. In the end it is all relative, you are never the same person. All you can do is accept that you will make mistakes and choices that are fixed points in time and cannot be changed. In the end, we are all Time lords.