Quantum physics says that everything is always in a state of flux. That we are not stationery objects. Nothing is stationery. Ever changing. Ever evolving. The universe too remains in a state of change – theories keep surfacing about how it is shrinking, or growing, from different perceptions of different scientists. But for sure, it is not the same as it was millions of years ago.
Neither is our immediate environment. Neither in the physical sense, nor in the social. Languages change and evolve, as do cultures. No one speaks exactly like they used to twenty years ago. New words have found their way into our vocabulary, into our minds. The Norman Conquest changed the face of English language forever. American expansionism gave it a new flavor. And the world becoming a global village has seen the fastest ever addition of foreign language borrowings into the English language. We may want to cling on to the classical or Elizabethan English, but cannot. Change. It happens. These are stages of evolution.
Mankind seems to be constructing buildings with a vengeance to accommodate 7 billion of us on the planet. New buildings have sprung up all over Karachi. All over the world, in fact. Landscapes have changed. Both outer and inner. Neither does my house look like it used to ten years ago, nor do I. Change! Inevitable.
That is why nostalgia is such an important part of who we are. We need to somehow cling on to what was, and is no more. So we take a drive down old Clifton, or take pictures of Empress Market at dawn, or produce a theatre version of Agha Hashar’s play “Naik Parveen” to know and remember simpler times when grey was not so obvious and life was simply black and white. We love the pebbled streets of Italy and we marvel at art in the Louvre from the 16th century. We term these things “classics”. We listen to Sinatra and Umm Kulthum of Egypt and black and white Bollywood songs from the ‘50s and try and stay connected to what the world has lost. But the power of the present moment is irrefutable. We listen, alongside all of this, to “Kolaveri Di” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”.
But I suspect we over-simplify the past. It was not so pristine or puritanical for the people of that time. What we think were “simpler times” may have been pretty complicated for those who were living it.
Is what goes away or changes truly lost? Is it? Quantum physics also talks of a parallel universe. It means nothing ever really gets lost. It is there, somewhere. Only not in my and your today. Not in the now. But somewhere, it still exists. Matter changes form, they say, but does not cease to exist.
Just like we change form, as we grow, as we age. Cross thirty five and the pounds pile on quicker and the laugh lines start getting pronounced and for women the hormones make them moodier and for men….well…..they simply start getting hairier as middle-age approaches.
And so nostalgia sets in again. Every once in a while, we sit down with faded pictures in hard-cover bound albums of our childhood. The colours of the photographs have changed and half the people are not alive anymore. But we love seeing them, and re-visiting yesterday. But then we come back to our digi-cams and take some pix of the today, the now, and post them on facebook and flickr…..again attempting to give it a classic feel by making them black and white or sepia toned at times. Merging the changed and the unchanged.
Time speeding by reminds me that the world today is very different from the world Charles Dickens was born in 200 years ago. Nostalgia made Dickens write these beautiful words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”
The past always looks beautiful. We humans have selective memories. It is a basic survival mechanism.
Inwardly, also, it’s all changing. It’s not the same person who looked at you in the mirror years ago. So the dynamics of re-construction, renovation, wear and tear, maintenance, of adding something new and taking away something old…..it all applies to our inner world as well.
QALB – this Arabic word connotes the human heart, but literally means to flip something over. Imam al-Raghib in his Mufradaat says that this term is applied to the human heart (physically as well), it is said, because of its frequent turning over, or going through what we call “changes of heart” where emotions, decisions and opinions flip and switch often.
A change of heart – happens forever. All the time. From joy to sorrow, from tears to laughter, from anger to forgiveness, from indifference to love, from denial to acceptance, from pining to satisfaction, from faith to a lack of it, and from a lack of it back to faith.
I love this excerpt from the book “40 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak”. This is a conversation between Shams of Tabriz and a drunkard (pg 140), a sensitive look at matters of faith and a change of heart:
Shams of Tabriz shook his head. “They had no right to do that. Every individual is self-sufficient in his search for the divine. There is a rule regarding this: We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, he would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”
“That sounds good,” I said, amazing myself by the ease in my voice. “But don’t you Sufis ever doubt anything about Him?”
Shams of Tabriz smiled a tired smile. “We do, and doubts are good. It means you are alive and searching.”
He spoke in a lilting tone, exactly as if he were reciting from a book.
“Besides, one does not become a believer overnight. He thinks he is a believer; the something happens in his life and he becomes an unbeliever; after that, he becomes a believer again, and then an unbeliever again, and so on. Until we reach a certain stage, we constantly waver. This is the only way forward. At each new step, we come closer to the Truth.”
Relationships, too, change, as they are a matter of the heart, or the Qalb. Non-platonic love, as most psychologists agree, travels and transforms from one stage to another: from romance to lust to deeper physical and emotional intimacy and finally to an emotional attachment. And it is not necessary that we stay in that state of mind….or heart….it keeps changing.
Change is the only constant. We know it. We have to accept it, whether it is a change in us, in the people we know or the world around us. It is not always easy to do so. But try we must.
So in the spirit of embracing change, here is a beautiful song by George Benson called “Everything Must Change”.
Everything must change,
nothing stays the same.
Everyone must change
nothing stays the same.
The young become the old,
mysteries do unfold.
‘Cause that’s the way of time
nothing and no one goes unchanged.
There are not many things
in life you can be sure of.
Rain comes from the clouds,
and sun lights up the sky,
and humming birds do fly.
Winter turns to spring.
Wounded heart will heal.
Never much too soon
everything must change