So, my grandmother isn’t a centenarian, and nor is she quite blessed with a grandchild with bestseller writing potential and a name like Jonas Jonasson to PR the hell out of it, but – she does have me, and yesterday, as she stepped off her aliyah flight at 80 years old with signature grace and equanimity, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the title of the bestselling book, and of films like Up.
In a globalised, highly-connected and hyper-communicative ‘facebook’ age, it is, I suppose, hardly surprising that more and more of those belonging to an older generation are taking the opportunity to re-discover their vitality and capacity for change.
Don’t let the grace and equanimity fool you, however, my grandmother is not one of those. She is someone who, for all her immigrant experience moving from Baghdad to London at a moment’s notice, seeks both to root herself and act as a beacon of constancy to those more volatile characters around her (please see, children and grandchildren who insist on changing partners, moving countries, redecorating houses, getting tearful and generally requiring endless cups of tea). Over the years, this character trait has taken her and her family through its share of troubles and change, mainly because my grandmother didn’t change at all.
And yet now she finds herself, at what can rightly be called the grand old age of 80, leaving everything she has known for over 50 years and moving to a country where the most familiar thing she can grab onto might be the middle eastern food.
I like to think this is all a good thing. Change, after all, is good – right?
It’s certainly true that change can have a revivifying, rejuvenating effect on us, whether we like it or not. Forcing ourselves to adapt to change is what turns us into the multifaceted and capable people we eventually hope to be. But sometimes I wonder whether this endless search for self-renewal can become a little, well, endless. What ever happened to settling down, and putting down roots, to forming a solid identity that stuck to its guns and didn’t shapeshift at the slightest provocation? What happened to sticking to a career, or a city, or a country?
I know moving has worked out wonderfully for me, but sometimes I get that itch, the little devil – the one that whispers to you wherever you are, when things get tough or life gets boring and you start talking in words like ‘stagnant’ – the voice that presents itself as ‘progress’ and ‘enterprise’:
‘maybe you should move to [insert relevant country or job], the opportunities there! the potential! You could really grow there…’
I’m not disputing the truth of the old Jewish saying שנה מקום שנה מזל (change your place, change your luck), but I wonder whether we ought to be asking ourselves whether it’s trumped by Horace’s ‘Cealum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt‘ (no matter how far away you travel, you are always stuck with yourself).
Either way, I salute my octogenarian, intrepid grandmother, and I hope this change will be rejuvenation for her, and perhaps some stability for us…