Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life Changes

I love the ambiguity in the phrase that makes the title of this post. 'Life changes' can mean big events, like weddings and babies, that irreversibly alter the course, feel, and decisions of a person's life, or it can be a somewhat obvious existential statement. Gloomy reflection on life is one of my hobbies, however more on that later. In terms of big event life changes, there have been so many of those this summer that my head is spinning.

Emma and Matt, having signed the register. Happy people.
My sister, Emma, got married two weeks ago, at the end of August, in a gorgeous ceremony and reception that suited her indescribably well, and it was the best weekend of my entire summer. It was a lot of work, and Emma did even more than anyone else, but it was incredibly fun, and I'm really happy for her and her partner. They make each other happy, and it's wonderful to see.

My bestie in Ottawa, Amy, had a baby a week ago. His name is Theo and he's adorable. He was a week late - he was due on the same weekend as Emma's wedding - but he's happy and healthy, and he and Amy are both doing very well. The full effect of the life-changing properties of an infant has not yet been felt by Amy, but they're starting to ripple outward. For example, when pregnant, Amy had imagined herself heading out to Folk Fest with baby in tow to check out some live music this past weekend, but when the time came she was more content to hang out at home, get some sleep if possible, and take it easy. Some pre-offspring parts of life do come to an end, and that's just part of the deal one makes when deciding to have children.

I'm having my own life change today. This change has been coming at me slowly for the past year, but nevertheless, this is my last day of employment with an organization that I've worked for since 2010. Four years have flown by so fast, I really have trouble believing that it's been that long already. I'm leaving this work behind to start on a PhD in public health ethics at the University of Birmingham. There are no courses to take, so I'll start writing my dissertation tomorrow, from Toronto. In January, I'll go to England for a few months, and then I'll come back to Canada in the spring, and I'll just move back and forth over the next three years.

Drew and me at Emma's wedding - looking pretty spiff!
I'm nervous and excited. I have a great supervisor who has already been immensely helpful in suggesting how I can get started on this massive project. My partner, Drew, is a safe harbour in stormy seas, and if it wasn't for his support, I'm not sure that I'd be taking this step. Despite the long and gradual approach of this transition from the office-work 9-5 schedule, getting out of bed every day and going somewhere to open emails and have coffee with coworker-friends, to a life of solitary effort without office or schedule, it's still a bit hard and more than a little surreal. It's like watching a fingernail grow until it's finally too long; you know the time is coming to cut it, and when you do your fingertip suddenly feels weird and exposed. Until a recent, reassuring conversation with my supervisor, my plan for tomorrow was to wake up, open my computer, and panic - panic about the work I had to do, the expectations that I face, and my decision to leave a regular pay-cheque behind. I'm fortunate to have funding from the Wellcome Trust Foundation, so I will not be broke. I will be living with budgetary restrictions, but maybe that's a good thing after being pretty financially careless for four years. (I always hope that I'll see the light, repent, and reform my spending ways. It hasn't happened yet.)

And now, the other facet. The statement, 'life changes,' is also an observation about the nature of existence. Life doesn't stay the same, it changes in constant and gradual entropy. It's almost autumn, and this country is taking the approaching change in season seriously, as evidenced by Calgary getting inches of snow (poor, poor Calgary) and Toronto's cold, rainy nights. I have a tendency to get nostalgic at this time of year. There's something about the slant of the sunlight that makes my eyes misty as the Earth careens through space and tilts its head back from the heat of the sun to warm its toes for a change. The events of the summer have reconfigured my life and the lives of my family and friends, and it's time to grow calm after the celebration to reflect on what has happened and how things will be different in the future. I can feel myself turning my face away from the busyness and excitement, toward quiet and solitude. We grow older, we love deeper, we talk slower, and we keep a watchful eye the horizon for the next changes that life will send our way. May they always be happily met.