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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts

Embracing Change in Your Life

October 2021

When was the last time you did something you’ve never done? If you live in a city and have a job and steady income, when was the last time you had a conversation with someone who is homeless? If you are a person unrelated to anyone in the military, when did you last have a sit-down conversation with someone in the military—veteran or active duty? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone from a different political persuasion? Embrace change in your life with an open mind. You’ll learn something.

I am not talking about an argument but just a plain old conversation. My husband’s family and I are of different political persuasions. My brother-in-law and I have had conversations about abortion, homosexuality, and politics. He asks me what I think. I tell him. I ask him what he thinks. He tells me. We’ve never yelled at one another and I doubt we ever will. We also have conversations that could be about ranching (his life) or writing (part of my life). His son once asked, ”Why do you write?” I said, “Because I like to.” End of conversation. Phil is a very practical person and saw no need to question further. No why on top of a why. His uncle, my husband, once told me I should stop working so hard as a principal to get teachers to monitor student learning on a daily basis. I told him, a surgical nurse, that I would when he went back to using whiskey as an anesthetic and operating by kerosene lantern. End of conversation.

The other day as I thought about the contradictions we face in life, I pictured a china teacup and a bologna sandwich on white bread. I may only have the china teacup today, but I do have an outhouse. Will that qualify for juxtaposition in life? I grew up in a china teacup world, but now live in a rain forest in Alaska. Yes, we have a toilet in the house, but you never know what can happen. The town plumber might be in town, gone for a couple of weeks, or just not available.

A proper cup of tea

A proper cup of tea

Approach to the outhouse from my studio. It’s a F.O.R.T. (fort for the children, outhouse, retreat, and the Taj Mahal of outhouses)

Approach to the outhouse from my studio. Itís a F.O.R.T. (fort for the children, outhouse, retreat, and the Taj Mahal of outhouses)

The inside of the 8 x 12-foot outhouse. You just can’t beat the approach or the view.

The inside of the 8 x 12-foot outhouse. You just canít beat the approach or the view.

The view from inside the outhouse.

The view from inside the outhouse.

I think to live in one world, one style of life, limits us too much. Think of the true story movie, The Blind Side. Sandra Bullock and her family take in a homeless teenager who plays football. She stops at nothing to give him education and a home. She shows him his bedroom and he says he’s never had this before. She thinks he means his own room. No, he means he’s never in his life slept in a bed. That’s a juxtaposition the likes of which I’ve never experienced.

I think we get caught in our own world, the world we grew up in, the world we live in, and all that becomes the world we’re stuck in.

If you have a good house and place, enjoy the wealth of the world you live in. However, also remember to enjoy the back alleys of life. I remember one night in a city waiting for the bus. I was in my early twenties and the man next to me was at least twice my age. It was raining or at least foggy. We struck up a conversation. He was poorly dressed and perceptive. We probably began by talking about the rain or chilly evening. We ended up talking about being rational vs. emotional, or perhaps it was the reality that surrounded us vs. what someone could feel. It was some intense topic, to me a 22-year-old, which usually doesn’t occur at all let alone with a stranger. I learned a bit about life from him that evening. He probably didn’t even remember the conversation the next morning as he’d had too much to drink, but I remember it some 50 years later.

One day in Washington, DC, I walked along the National Mall, stopping at the Vietnam Memorial and continuing on to the Lincoln Memorial. I passed about 50 Vietnam veterans sitting at their booths selling national and military symbols and memorabilia. Some stood and some were in wheelchairs. I chatted with several individuals about nothing in particular, but I thought it was important for them, for anyone, to have a conversation with another human being. They had been in the same military conflict my husband was in. They had some connection to him even if it was only being in Vietnam at some point. Most had probably been drafted and went for a year, whereas my husband had volunteered and then also volunteered to stay a second year. Who were some of these veterans and what were their stories? I had no idea and didn’t ask. It was just important to acknowledge them as fellow people.

Me? Other than my husband, I had no connection to the military. Yes, I suppose that was enough, but I was reared a Quaker and had gone to a Quaker school for five years. War was as foreign to me as the locations where they took place. Still, there comes a point at which we must cross the gap that separates the lives of many we come in contact with.

If I live in just one world and have no sight or understanding of another person’s world, I limit myself. I like cities with their art, music, readings and plays. I like the woods that lean up against mountainsides with their jagged peaks. I love the sound of the ocean pounding against the shore or rolling up on sand with small, gentle waves. I also love the Plains of Kansas and Oklahoma with their winds and fierce snow and thunderstorms. I love the quiet of a word or phrase or the noise of a cluster of seized and stormed clouds. I love the approach of the storm that is about to arrive today or tomorrow. I also like days of just plain clear, blue skies and sunshine. I also like to sit in a library reading a book or sit at home researching something on my computer. I like a conversation with a highly intelligent person and a conversation with a homeless person. When we open our minds, we learn something.

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