This last weekend, I returned to Detroit for the first time in almost three years. I ate an absolute ton of extremely heavy food, visited the familiar sites of the city and the suburbs, drank quite a few beers, saw some of my favorite people, and screamed myself hoarse at a DCFC match. The visit did not, at all, disappoint. In fact, I was surprised at how much the things I loved had stayed the same, and how nonplussed I was at the changes to almost everything else.
Let’s try to avoid the overworked Thomas Wolfe quote and acknowledge that things do indeed change – people change…hairstyles change. And I think that the first thing one has to accept upon leaving their home is that this is so, and the second, that those changes are to be celebrated.
In so doing, there is a sort of “Kentucky windage” of expectations: In expecting pronounced and dramatic differences, hamartia – missing the mark. When looking for the presence, the absence manifests. The thing is what it is not. Preparing for the worst helps us to acknowledge the best.
During my stay I met up with friends and family whom I have not seen since 2018. They looked both different and the same: longer, wilder hair thanks to the pandemic. Shorter than I remember, or taller. Some more grey hair, maybe not as much as expected. We found ourselves immediately in the old familiar conversations, barely missing a beat.
And yes, some of this is owed to frequent communication online and via text – thanks, internet! But part of it, too, is that I made plans and opened my mind to all possibilities. I tried, without always succeeding, to eschew expectations and thereby to never be disappointed. The Buddha calls this one of the Four Noble Truthes. In Taoism this is the Uncarved Block. To avoid desire is to avoid suffering. To keep the mind blank and receptive is to prepare for delight.
It is also worth seeking out those things which, to the span of a human life, seem (and therefore effectively are) immortal – the institutions and traditions, the stone foundations and deep roots. That’s a Confucian sentiment, I suppose, but there is comfort in the familiar…and danger, too: a danger that the stable ground shifts and becomes strange, and also the danger of becoming reliant upon the familiar such that one is no longer receptive to the new.
One thing I have known about myself for a long time: I embrace paradox. I’m fine with oxymorons. In the words of Turbish from Disenchantment: two things can be true. So sure, take comfort in tradition while never being comfortable with it, look for the new to find the old, and go back home to discover where to go next.