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July 15, 2019
“Well, you’re back,” Notta observed. She bustled into my office with her bags of papers and who knew what. “How was the travel?”
“Refreshing mostly,” I said. “Sometimes I need to talk to new people and see new things.”
“Yes, we all need that once in a while, but here we are back again, same as when you left.”
I watched her rummage through the voluminous Whole Foods bag for her favorite pen. “Are we?”
“Are we what?”
Notta stopped her search. “What do you mean? We’ve got no new students. We’re teaching the same stuff, to the test and all that. I know you’ve seen me in this paisley blouse at least five times. And I know I’ve seen that red cutwork blouse you’ve got on several times. You even wear that in the winter, even if it’s under different sweaters.”
I shook my head. “It’s something I was thinking about on the drive home over the weekend. Even if I hadn’t gone away, you know, broken the routine, is everything really the same as when I left?”
“Did your house burn down or blow up?”
I smiled. “No.”
“Did your kids turn into flesh-eating zombies?”
“You’ve been watching too much TV again, Notta.”
“Is everything in your life where it was when you left?”
“As far as I can tell.”
“Well, then! It’s the same.”
“But is it? You know the old saying, ‘No one can step in the same river twice, for it is not the same person, nor the same river.’1?”
“That’s because the water flows. It doesn’t sit still. If it did, it would develop pond scum or algae or something like that. Definitely there would be mosquitoes and you know I hate mosquitoes.”
“And doesn’t time flow as well? We get older every minute, every day?”
Notta sank down into her favorite office chair. “I know I’m going to be a lot older before you get to your point.”
“OK, let’s take my garden for an example. When I left, it was pretty orderly, only a few weeds and those were babies, and a lot of blossoms on the tomatoes and peppers.” Notta sighed heavily and waved for me to go on. “I came home to an explosion of greenery, ten or more young tomatoes and a few peppers, and the squash trying to take over the whole garden and the yard along with it.”
“That’s what plants do,” Notta said. “Enough water – and Heaven knows it’s been pouring buckets lately – and sunshine and the plants do their produce thing. ‘s how we get vegetables, or so they told us in grade school.”
“Right. And don’t we grow and change, too? Your hair looks nice and summery today.”
Notta patted her new ‘do’. “Why, thank you. I had to get it cut.”
“Why what? Why did I get it cut?” I nodded. “Because it had grown too long. Got in my eyes and the length and weight on my neck in the heat and humidity we had? It was too much.”
“So is that the last time you get it cut?”
“Don’t be – “ Notta frowned. “So you’re going to tell me my hair grows and changes. Oh , it changes all right. Gets grayer every day. Going to be a lot grayer when you get done.”
“You and me both, “ I agreed. “My point – “
“Oh, thank you, God!” Notta interrupted.
I cleared my throat. “My point is that we are always changing. We’re designed for it. The makeup of the human body relies on it, and so does the development of our minds. Like my garden: if the plants didn’t grow and blossom and horn in on each other’s territory, they’d die. Same with us, physically and mentally. “
Notta thought for a moment. “OK, I will concede the physical change. Heaven knows I wish I had the body I had at 20. Then maybe ol’ Doctor Taffy-Pull would shut up about my eating habits. But mentally? Please. You can say that with our country being led by people who haven’t changed mentally since the 1950s or early 1960s.”
“I disagree: those jokers have learned a thing or two. Mostly how to harness and profit from the basest, ugliest aspects of people.””
“Fear and laziness,” Notta said.
“I’ll agree with that.” I sighed. “The world is changing, with or without their say-so. It always will, if any sort of life is going to continue. They will likely find moss growing where they thought their bank accounts should be.
“But it wasn’t politics or nostalgia for my kids or my cat or my 20-year-old body that stuck in my mind when I mulled this over on the drive. And it was a long drive.”
“What did stick? Your chewing gum?”
“Zaier kamish2, Notta.”
“And that means?”
“Look it upon Google Translate. It’s Yiddish.”She snorted. “What did stick with me was that if we’re always changing, if we are not exactly the same person we were two weeks ago, one week ago, a day ago, an hour ago – “
“Get to the point!” Notta said.
“Doesn’t that change offer the opportunity to change the way I see things? Maybe even the way I do things? If the cells in my body know enough to change and grow, why can’t I change and grow in how I see things and do things?”
“You’re talking mutation,” Notta pointed out. “That doesn’t always turn out so well. Case in point: zombies.”
“Can you stay with me for a minute? Stow the negative snark, and listen.” I closed my eyes. “Sorry. Shouldn’t have snapped like that. That’s an old habit. I can do better. Let me start again.
“On that drive, I got to thinking about all the days I woke up and would again wake up and how often I would think, ‘Here we go again.’ Or ‘Same s—t, different day.’ Didn’t make for a very good mood to start a day with, I can tell you.
“ But it’s not the same, and neither am I. It’s always a new morning. And, if narcissism doesn’t ossify me into the delusion that I know it all, I am new. I have more things to try and to learn. I can choose to see the world differently. See opportunities rather than burdens. Stay open to new ideas. I can embrace the change, which will happen with or without my consent.” I paused. “Or I can sit still and grow algae.”
I nodded. “Even those are changes, if you think about it. “ Notta groaned. “Yes, well, that’s my point. Mind you, I half-composed a dissertation with whys and hows on the drive.”
“But I hear our cherubs coming in,” Notta said. “I take your point. However, one thing remains the same: our Early Bird still can’t subtract fractions.”
“Maybe it’s time to change how we teach that,” I said.
Notta studied me for a moment. I waited for the argument.