Lesson 79: Change is messy

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My dad was in the hospital last week.

He fell and face-planted while crossing the street, two days before he and my mom were supposed to get on a one-way flight to Austin. After two years of challenges, they were finally moving 10 minutes away from me – but apparently, not without one final obstacle.

I had just left, after spending the week in Cleveland with them – packing every night until 2 or 3am. It had been an exhausting week for all of us. Their makeshift 2-bedroom apartment was overflowing with paper and possessions still in transition from my childhood home that they’d moved out of 16 months earlier. My dad, a creature of habit, was completely overwhelmed by the move and virtually paralyzed by indecision – what to pack, what to let go of, where to start….

My mom and I took over and did our best. I even pulled an all-nighter, but by moving day there were still dozens of boxes left unpacked.

“Dad, if you don’t pack up your office and personal papers the way you want before the movers come – they’ll just throw everything in a box. You’ll have a much harder time finding them,” for days I warned him.

“Alright, alright…,” he’d yell back, annoyed by my pushing.

But I knew what was coming, and I knew he didn’t. I’ve moved 19 times since leaving college: across town, across the state and most recently – across country. My dad hasn’t left the same city since before I was born – he rarely travels and the one big move we had when I was in elementary school was completely handled by my mother.

I knew he was not emotionally prepared for what was about to happen.

When the movers arrived, and swooped in like a swarm of bees scooping up everything in sight, my father was visibly upset. He tried to control the chaos. Then, I believe self-preservation kicked in and he shut down. He literally fell asleep in a chair, right in the middle of it all. Like his brain said: “I’m out.”

Two days later, while crossing the street to have lunch, he tripped and fell in the street.

Thankfully, all he broke was his nose. And after one night in the hospital for observation, he was cleared to fly. He and my mother arrived in Austin only one day late, both emotionally stressed out beyond belief, but in one piece. Since the movers wouldn’t arrive for a week, they spent the first 4 nights in a beautiful hotel on South Congress. The hope was that it would be a mini-vacation – their first in years. The reality was my dad was black and blue, exhausted, angry and irritable. My mom was on overload and close to a breakdown. In the midst of too much, she uncharacteristically started misplacing everything: her moving folder, her credit card, her checkbooks…

“Is this a mistake?” my mom asked me in the midst of the chaos. She had been pushing for this move for a couple years, and now with the finish line in sight, she couldn’t help but wonder if the universe was conspiring against her.

I too started to worry that in an attempt to bring them closer to me, we might have pushed my dad so far out of his comfort zone that we’d “broken” him. The doctor in Austin told us he’d suffered a concussion and needed two weeks of bedrest – for both his brain and his body. I was scared, but knew the power of sleep and meditation. I also knew that my dad comes from pretty sturdy genes.

So yesterday, we left him at home to rest: no TV or internet. Just sleep, food and his cell phone. We hoped a day of sleep would help him start to heal, and give us some space to focus on building their new life here.

After an afternoon of errands and grocery shopping, my mom and I returned to find my father rested, happy – and DANCING in the kitchen to The Traveling Wilburys.

I exhaled for the first time in weeks (outside of yoga class), and smiled as I watched my mom kiss him. I knew they were going to be ok, and that all the effort of the last few weeks and months was worth it.

I can see why so many people choose to stay in unhappy situations, jobs, homes and relationships. At least there is comfort in the misery: you know it. But what kind of life is that?

Change is scary for most of us – and terrifying for some of us. It comes with all sorts of uncertainty and challenges. It’s messy, stressful and full of chaos. It’s hard, if not impossible, to believe that there is calm waiting on the other side of the chaos storm.

Often times the storm is so big, so all encompassing, that you can’t see around it. Like a tornado or hurricane, blinding you from the world outside, it’s as if that world no longer exists. But it does, and it’s almost always better. Like a plant being uprooted, to be repotted in a bigger pot – the process may be uncomfortable. But the end result is a beautiful new home with room to grow.

Welcome to Texas, mom & dad!

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