Since returning from a three week trip to Europe on September 6, I’ve had some time to reflect on some of my experiences there. It strikes me that visiting another country has multiple benefits, including
1) seeing other people’s creative solutions to problems that can help our own (roundabouts - after I stopped screaming and peeked through my fingers, I realized they really do work! Fortunately, I wasn’t driving…),
2) seeing how some problems (homelessness, which was evident everywhere we went) seem insurmountable globally,
3) seeing how history has changed the way people understand and approach problems (Brexit, which several Brits confided was a big mistake - Britain has apparently still not gotten to the point of view that it is, in fact, no longer an empire), and
4) seeing other people's ideas about what constitutes beauty (I found the street art entrancing, the museum art not so much), etc.
Everywhere we went, the world was changing and humans were reacting and adjusting to that change, in good and not-so-good ways. These current changes seem like modern occurrences because you and I are living them, and we’re hearing about them constantly through news outlets and social media, but actually, the same problems and changes have been going on for millennia.
A few weeks ago, I came upon this enchanting story about Franz Kafka, the brilliant but short lived absurdist German author. Kafka was quite a complicated being, with some accounts describing some kind of personality disorder bordering on schizophrenia, sexual aberrations (he never married, but had several lovers), and he suffered from things like under confidence and bulimia. There is no way to know how much of the following story is true, having taken place a century ago, but I think it has an important message, and so share it with you.
At 40, Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, was walking through a park one day in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favorite doll. She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully.
Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her.
The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter "written" by the doll saying "please don't cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures."
Thus began a story which continued until the end of Kafka's life.
During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable.
Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one) that had returned to Berlin.
"It doesn't look like my doll at all," said the girl.
Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: "my travels have changed me." The little girl hugged the new doll and brought the doll with her to her happy home.
A year later Kafka died.
Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written:
"Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way."
First of all, what a great way to inspire a child to dream about her own future! But what else is meant by this missive? Certainly, embrace change, it's inevitable for growth, and we may be surprised by the outcome. It is up to us to then consciously and intentionally create connections that move us forward.
But, it’s not that easy, is it? When I think of the times in my life when change was painful (and let’s face it, even something we originally label “good” change can surprise us later on with its stressors), I didn’t know how I would get through it. My children grew up and left to start their own lives, my pets died, I moved to a new part of the country and began as an outsider to try and fit into a highly competitive freelancing community, my sister’s husband passed away at a fairly young age, both my parents died, my mother after a horrible few years of dementia - these changes all require strength, resilience and adjustment, and sometimes a period of grieving. But more than that, they also require looking forward, wondering, curiosity, and absolutely no regret, if we are to survive them.
Embracing change creatively is actually the antidote to change itself. I hear people constantly bemoan big issues like climate change, income disparity, racial and gender injustice, etc. But those things are all ultimately resolvable, and could lead us to solutions that over time will constitute a much better and stable world. We have no idea what technology will come along in the next decade to completely override the climate implications we see today. And the concept of things like a basic minimum income is already reality in some places, including the United States!
I write about human creativity, not only because it fascinates me, but because I think it will save our sweet blue planet. You are part of that evolution. Travel (and by that I mean read a book, go somewhere near or far you’ve never been before, watch a movie that wouldn’t be your first choice, meet a new person), stay curious, try learning something new, exercise your creative options and look forward to the change these things bring. Don’t expect it to all turn out okay, but change your expectations to enable your own growth.