Growth

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Did you know that cut tulips continue to grow in water? It’s particularly evident when they’re in a mixed arrangement with other flowers… their cheery heads will stretch upwards above the others. The speed at which they grow is really quite incredible… up to an inch in a day.

Humans, as it turns out, change much more gradually. Day after day, year after year, those tiny incremental growth spurts go unnoticed, until you bump into someone you haven’t seen in 10 years. Or encounter a previous incarnation of yourself.

Let me elaborate.

Last week I visited my parents in Cologne – a twice, sometimes thrice yearly occurrence. While I always look forward to these visits, this one held a unique sense of anticipation. A few rough weeks (ok, months… ok years…) at work culminating in a major burn out/ blow up meant I was in dire need of a break. That and it might have been my last visit ‘home’ to Cologne, in the sense that ‘home’ is defined by a) where I live and b) where my parents live (which means I have had many homes throughout my life and at any point in time have more than one home).

Given that a) has never applied in the case of Cologne and b) my dad’s imminent retirement means that they will most likely move within the year, I am preparing myself mentally for a new home. Or new homes. This time, mum and dad are laying down the law: no more moving my crap around the world with them. School notes, art supplies, Barbies, Christmas pyjamas, summer dresses, yearbooks, photo albums and diaries. They belong with me in my cupboards or they belong in the bin. Take your pick, they said.

I arrived with one nearly full suitcase so the option of choosing there and then to bring it all back with me was a non-starter. I was spared the job of sifting through my things and rescuing the worthy keepsakes, a la super market sweep, with the promise that I would figure something out before the next time, which will definitely be the last time. But I had a quick rummage, during a rare 45 minutes alone…

Flicking through photo albums and diary entries, rather than feeling whimsically nostalgic I felt… a bit uncomfortable with the person I was peeping in on. The person being me, the former me. In some respects I did not recognise her, in others the similarities were strikingly apparent. For one, she was not the lanky, pretty, bright-eyed teenager I remember. She was a bit puffy, a bit spotty, a bit …homely. Second, and much more disturbing was the rampant self-loathing and general anguish depicted in her journal entires, which focus primarily on the misery of unrequited love(s). To say she had her fair share of heartbreak would be an understatement – that I knew and remembered well. What came as a shock was how much of it was blatantly self-inflicted. Wallowing shamelessly in the humiliation and hurt of rejection, time after time, boy after boy. I didn’t like her, this girl.

What has changed since then? Small things, mostly. Subtle things that add up to big things. For one thing, this one came along:

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My friend Tuomas, a giant handsome Finnish lad (who was also incidentally the subject of one or two lamenting diary entries), once told me whilst we were sitting in his kitchen drinking tins of beer and smoking cheap cigarettes that if a boy man likes you, really truly likes you. You’ll know 100% and never question, wonder or worry about his intentions. Check! This one never left my side – devotion in abundance from day 1.

Not that finding love necessarily changes you…quite the opposite in fact, it took the weight off so that I could stop trying to change and focus on growth. They’re not one and the same you see. All growth is change but not all change is growth.

I’m facing a ‘big’ birthday later this year and I can’t help but wonder whether my thirty-something year old self will look back on my twenty-something year old self and recognise her. I hope not – she still has a lot of growing to do.

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