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do we ever change?

February 24, 2010

The letters I wrote when I was fifteen reflect who I am and always have been, but the girl who wrote those letters was still largely unknown to herself

The Dance, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I was discussing with a friend the pro’s and con’s of engaging a solicitor to assist in dealing with the various tasks that have to be done after the death of someone in your family. His wife had recently lost her mother and, as her father had already passed on, that left her and her two younger brothers to deal with the estate. It is apparently a ‘simple’ will – the estate is to be split into thirds and being a practical woman she had her affairs in order.


Except for the dog. There was still some discussion about where the dog would go.

And then there was the task of sorting through the things their mother had accumulated during her life. Deciding what to keep, what to donate and what to throw away. There was no argument that it had to be done. Just by whom and by when. The bulk of the tasks have apparently fallen to the eldest sister with a comment that it is no surprise as the younger brother has always been useless in situations like these.

What struck me was that even now, some 50 years on their relationship appears to be essentially the same as it was when they fought over whose turn it was to clear the table. Or the 40 years since the indignant howls rose into the air over the easy treatment, loose boundaries and lax standards applied to the youngest sibling – standards that were unthinkable when the eldest first tested the boundaries only a handful of years before.

She is still the big sister and they are still the little brothers.

As I approach the formal marking of my 40th birthday I suppose it is to be expected that I should pause to reflect on what progress I have made so far and whether I have changed at all since I was fifteen. I don’t have any letters from then but I do have a diary that I have kept on and off since I was seventeen and to be honest, I think the answer is that I haven’t changed all that much yet I am not who I was.

Oriah continues the thought that started this piece by suggesting that “the task is not to change, the task is simply to become all of who we are”. It is in that respect that I feel I can confidently say I haven’t changed but I am not who I was. I have a sense that I am becoming more of who I am but I have a long way yet to go.

Part of that process has been coming to accept that there are parts of me that are not who I think I should be. Ram Das says in one of his lectures that after 30 years of therapy, meditation, yoga, drugs, free love and just about anything else you can think of, he is yet to overcome a single neurosis. They are all still there – he has not changed – and yet he is not who he was. Now, instead of being huge monsters that he battles with constantly his neuroses are more like small furry animals that he occasionally invites in for tea.

One thing I know that will never change is that I will always be the eldest of my siblings. That is part of who I am. What has been interesting of late is that while I have spent a time over the past 20 years being a husband and a father, a businessman, a friend and a mentor, I don’t feel like I have spent much time being a big brother. Or the eldest son. They are parts of me that remain largely unknown to my self.

My dad turns 60 next month and I have a feeling that I am going to be spending more time revisiting both those parts of me, my roles of eldest son and elder brother, over the next 20 years. Recently I have been fascinated to watch my reactions as they have been called back onto the stage unsure of just who they are meant to be and the lines they are to deliver.

Perhaps that is a good thing as I have a growing certainty that I don’t want to just be who I was.

It is not that I have any certainty about what those roles require of me – more a willingness to be open to all who I am and how I can serve my family from that place of being. But then the past holds a great deal of inertia and old habits can be hard to break. And I will always be someone’s big brother…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    February 24, 2010 1:26 pm

    Very nice piece, Paul. It’s all about the journey, and accepting it – for me anyway.

  2. Sara F permalink
    February 25, 2010 12:37 am

    Paul, I found this piece really inspiring. I am going to share it with my mum. Self-improvement is something I have been working on since I was a kid, and I know this because I recently stumbled across torn up pieces of paper with prayers that I wrote when I was 9, saying ‘Dear God, please help me to be nicer to my mum and sisters and not take them for granted..’ Um… what was it exactly I found myself asking of God about 3 nights ago again? Almost word for word…? Not to mention asking St Anthony to find the gold bracelet I had lost and I was really scared I was going to get in trouble for losing it…nothing has changed – I am still the same scatterbrained daydreamer today that I always was! Something I really like about your piece is that it is making me reflect upon whether I should stop beating myself up for all the things I am not, and perhaps try for some good old self-acceptance.. since I am obviously never going to change that much!! Thanks Paul – I like your blog. 🙂

  3. Gavin m permalink
    February 25, 2010 12:03 pm

    I thank you greatly for forwarding your latest piece to me – cold chill as I read through it – reality check and some.

    Like Sara, through new encounters I have repeatedly revisited early life as a brother/son/grandson with a feeling of at times being “just who I was”. Through those encounters, I began to think of more who I am now and how best to serve now. Each time, until I resolve that difference (or is it a change??) I definitely beat myself up.

    Please don’t ask me to think how I will be able to serve in the future…….It feels like looking into a bubbling vat of a unknown potion and then plucking up the courage to try some.

    Arousing and inspiring – hope this subscription works.

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