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June 5, 2019

Counting on change

Apparently I need more of an assurance that ‘change happens’ beyond night turning into day every 24 hours. In fact, there are many times when circumstances seem so bleak that I can’t imagine them eventually becoming history and being replaced by happier, more hope-filled times. Or even by some additional challenges. And yet, no matter what kind of changes are ahead of us, we can bank on them occurring. Even though many of us often fail to acknowledge change as a constant.

People who follow me on Instagram know that one of my weekend rituals is getting up pre-dawn and taking a power walk through my neighborhood. It’s usually just me, a few feral cats, the occasional (and literal) early bird, the moon and a whole lot of trees. It was during the winter months that I took a picture of a favorite tree as the last of its autumn-y leaves clung to it (just before falling). I was able to capture its beauty lit by a nearby streetlight with my phone camera.

But on a recent morning, when passing said tree, I noticed that its branches were “suddenly” covered in thick greenery. It seemed like only yesterday this tree was sitting in the dark, practically naked. And yet here it was on this day, crying out to the world that summer was imminent. I was as astounded by this change as I was grateful for it. It seemed like such a short period between this tree’s two states of being. Change occurred. And it was beautiful. And this change courtesy of Mother Nature reminded me of other times in my life that I didn’t think change (real and lasting change) was even possible.

I remember weighing over 450 pounds during my college years. Despite going to school in sunny Florida, I lived life as if I were a vampire—venturing into daylight only when necessary (usually to attend classes at Florida State University), while relegating everything else to nighttime hours. I was terrified to let people see I was morbidly obese and had become convinced that doing most things at nighttime would cloak me in a way similar to a vampire who might otherwise combust should he or she move about during daylight hours.

These nighttime errands included grocery shopping, which (lucky for me) could be done 24 hours a day thanks to a nearby chain store. There were others who deemed it necessary to shop during late hours as well. So I was still forced to encounter the general public. My mission was clear. Get in, fill my grocery cart, pay and get out—without making any eye contact or letting anyone get a good look at the 450-pound man I’d become.

One such night I was in the breakfast cereal aisle, which was unfortunately very crowded despite the late hour. As I quickly scooted by other shoppers with my cart (grabbing the nearest high-fat, sugar-soaked cereal I could reach), a little girl (who was shopping with her mom) looked at me, pointed, and screamed out, “Mommy, mommy! Why does that man have boobs?”

Everyone in the aisle turned and stared—in what seemed like slow motion fashion. I could swear the muzak playing over the loud speakers even screeched to a halt. There I stood, facing the general public in the same way Quasimodo might have when coming down from the bell tower. The little girl wasn’t wrong. I was a man and I did, indeed, have “boobs.” They were what some might refer to as man boobs, but still…

To say I was mortified is an understatement. I felt so “less than” and would have scurried under the closest shelving unit like a cockroach had I been able to. I was so angry at the little girl for calling attention to me. And even angrier at her mom for not turning it into a teachable moment and helping the little girl understand that men with boobs have feelings, too.

I abandoned my grocery cart, fled for my car and hurried home as quickly as possible. I remember sitting in the dark of my apartment, barely able to catch my breath (being at that excess weight wasn’t any better for me physiologically than it was for me physically) and wishing for change. But as much as I wished for it, I couldn’t comprehend it. I just couldn’t visualize me weighing less than 450 pounds. Much less 300 pounds. Or anything below that number. This kind of change wasn’t fathomable. And, I was just as sure, wasn’t reachable.

Even though I vowed to stay in my college apartment for the rest of my life, I eventually left my self-imposed fortress of solitude. And guess what? Soon after I discovered that all the crash diets I’d been on didn’t hold the key to getting healthy. Soon after that revelation I was eating more natural foods in healthier portions. Shortly afterward, I added an exercise routine to my new way of eating—along with proper hydration (drinking enough water) and healthy amounts of sleep. It was a four-pronged approach (without any gimmicks, pills or surgery) that eventually led to… (Wait for it…) Change.

Even with my own dramatic change and this recent change demonstrated to me by my neighborhood tree, there are still times in my life that I feel trapped. That I feel like change can’t possibly occur. Even when I know in my heart of hearts it can. And will. This occurrence of change will be as true for hard times as it will be for joyful times. It’s constant. And there’s a real gift in knowing and remembering this if we’ll allow ourselves to.

So if you’re going through a happy period in your life at this moment, embrace it. Soak it in. Hold it in your heart so tightly that it will always be a part of you—even when circumstances change. And the same edict is true for anyone who’s in a dark moment at this time, convinced that there is no way things could get better. They can. We can’t see around the virtual corners ahead of us. But all sorts of possibility—and change—lie just beyond them. Of this, we can all be sure. Just look to your favorite tree for proof.

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