Ch ch ch ch ch ch changes

David Bowie’s song came to mind as I started writing this blog. I was reflecting on the mysteries surrounding what we call fate. Fate is often a rationalizing of events that have occurred and which seem to have conspired some change in one’s life. A trauma, a chance meeting with someone who becomes one’s partner, an act of god, a range of domino-like incidents that then create a context which enwraps one in its coils. In an earlier blog I recounted how such a train of events over decades became a pattern – in hindsight – that led me to live in Ghana.
When I left school in 1962 and went on to a teachers’ college in Sunderland I took a spur of the moment decision which completely changed my life. Until I walked into the men’s hostel room which I had been allocated I was known by family, school and village friends as Eric. Now Eric was a quiet, retiring, shy boy in glasses, somewhat askance at the very sight of a pretty girl. Until the last couple of years he had been thin, bony and gawky. Then he had applied himself with some discipline to body and mind. He became a good tennis player, cricketer, swimmer. He did weights in his bedroom. He meditated on a cigarette lighter to levitate it from its resting position. He read Zen. I suppose Eric was both consciously and unconsciously preparing himself to be a different person. Like a snake his skin was too tight, too dull and too unattractive.
In the hostel, a young fellow from a nearby room wandered in and introduced himself, following this up with the “What’s your name?” question. I answered, using my middle name for the first time. Within an hour I had met a dozen or more new compatriots and was known by my new monicker. I remember my brain turning rapidly on the axis of this newly discovered ‘Jack’. Who was he? Well, he was the opposite of Eric in many ways. He was outgoing. He was easy with the girls, he was sporty enough but didn’t mind being philosophical. He wrote poetry. He acted. He directed plays. He wore sideburns and a quiff. He played bass. All these things I admitted to within that first day. All these things became me and were expected of me. Are me. Although, over the years, as I’ve experienced more and reflected more, the two sides of my character have melded. Introversion and extroversion only dominate in certain contexts.
There seems to me little doubt that major changes can be effected at any time in a person’s life despite the obvious caveat that the later one leaves it, the harder it becomes because one’s history and one’s current circumstance tend to combine to force oneself into the straitjacket of social expectation. A close friend told me, when dying, that a sudden revelation in the previous weeks had led this individual to a sense of a life misplaced, of cards badly played, of an unnecessary subordination to social forces. Of a sense of loss.
I feel a lot better for being Jack with a bit of Eric going about his business happily underneath than the other way round; a timidly unassuming fellow with an increasingly frustrated other self wanting to burst from its constraints.
Twitter @profjacksanger


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