The more things change...

...the more they stay the same. (See original quote below.)

I've always found this a fascinating aspect of human nature, and it was reinforced for me yesterday as I sat drinking coffee with five friends I had first met in second grade and, for the most part, had not seen in nearly 30 years. By the time I changed high schools in 1981, I was not seeing these girls regularly any more. My memories of them were mostly fixed in elementary school and junior high. And I lost touch, and that was that.

Then Facebook came along! And suddenly, people I had wondered about from time to time were in my life again, flesh and blood. And then, the coffee date.

First of all, everyone looked the same to me. No surprise. I think our brains imprint a face in our memories and it doesn't matter how old someone gets, the original face is always overlaid on the new face.

But what is fascinating is how much everyone's basic personality, speech patterns and physical characteristics have stayed the same. We may spend billions of dollars a year in this country on self-help books, therapy and fitness training; we may get married, have kids (or not), experience traumas and dramas and life-changing events; we may improve our bad habits, become more confident and embrace healthy or unhealthy behaviors of all kinds, but we do not ever really change.

I like to think that I'm very different from the girl I was when I met these women back in 1972, and even different from the 16-year-old I was when I left for another school. But as our conversation went on, in each woman I saw the same girl I knew back then. Same personality, same sense of humor, same facial expressions, same mannerisms, same everything.

I had this experience with another elementary school friend I met up with a couple of years ago. I hadn't seen her since fourth grade. Guess what: Same exact person I knew in fourth grade.

I'm not saying this is a good or bad thing. It just is. We can change our outward behaviors, but can we change who we are at our core, the traits ingrained in us by biology and genetics?

I guess I'm resigned to the fact that the shy, nerdy, loudmouthed 7-year-old is still with me. I'm no different than I ever was, except that, at this age, I have the self-awareness to know who I am.

Here's a cool article on the "nature vs. nurture" argument as seen through the Human Genome Project.

The original expression, in French, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" was said by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.


I wish I could tell you... (An open letter to negative people)

Dear friend (although I'm not sure that is the appropriate term for our relationship),

I wish I could tell you how much I dread talking to you, because we can't have a conversation where everything in your life isn't falling apart, one way or another. And you only ask me about my life in order to one-up me with your troubles.

I wish I could tell you how much you are sabotaging your personal and professional progress and success because people don't want to work with you or spend time with you.

I wish I could tell you how bad you make people feel with your backhanded "compliments" which are only meant to make yourself look better or smarter than others.

I wish I could tell you to smile now and then. You have a nice smile, but mostly walk around with an expression of disdain.

I wish I could tell you to ease up on the world. Life is what you make of it. We all have struggles and challenges, but we don't all go around constantly complaining and blaming as though we're the only ones who ever experienced pain. Read Sean Holton's blog to see how it's done.

I wish I could tell you that dwelling on the past only works if you are using it to learn from your mistakes. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. And no one wants to hear it.

I wish I could tell you these things, but I don't feel that you are enough of a friend to have an honest conversation with you. Our relationship is based entirely on you complaining and me trying to be supportive and helpful. It's exhausting, and I don't think friendships should feel like that.

I wish that, by reading this, you would recognize yourself. But you won't, because you have a distorted perception of how you are perceived by others, and you will feel sorry for "someone else" when you read this.

What I do get from being around you is an incredible sense of gratitude about my own life. With all my problems and challenges, I can appreciate the good things (hence, this blog) and actively seek to make my life the way I want it. So thank you for that.

This is really more for me than for you.


It's only hair...

There's a cashier at a store in my neighborhood who has the most adorable hairdo. Whenever I shop there, I can't stop looking at her... partly because I'm pretty sure it's a wig. But it's the kind of hair I wish I had: full, bouncy with just the right amount of curl, the perfect shade of brown with blond highlights, and darling bangs. A little retro; I can picture that hair looking sassy with a pair of go-go boots.

Today I go through her checkout line. She's always perky, friendly and conversational, so I decide to mention her hair. I tell her how much I love it; how it's exactly the kind of hair I wish I had, and how I love its bounce and curl.

She is flattered and surprised, and thanks me for the compliment. After a little more small talk about hair, she leans in and tells me quietly she's going through chemo and it's a wig. She doesn't normally tell people, but she's touched by the compliment. This is not her typical hairstyle, but she's enjoying it for her temporary look.

I was afraid she was going to tell me something like this and I wish for a moment that I weren't so nosy. I get all teary-eyed and try to avoid making eye contact by concentrating on my debit transaction. I say that, if I had the choice of wigs, I might go for purple or green, and she tells me that they do offer those colors and people do choose them!

So now that I know what I know, I tell her she has great taste in hair and we say goodbye.

What a cheerful, good-humored woman with a big smile and great attitude. And sadly, quite young to be going through this illness. I hope the chemo works and she recovers soon (I also not-so-secretly hope she keeps wearing the wig anyway). Her positive energy made my day.

Update, December 2011: I finally saw the cashier again this week, and she was wearing her natural hair. So, first of all, she's still with us. And second, she has apparently chosen not to keep wearing her wig. :-) I was very happy to see her.