I came across an old post while I was rummaging through the files. It looked at the decades of an ordinary life…my life… and how the things that seem ordinary to you, while you are living them, can look very different to an observer. As I skimmed back through the paragraphs, I was watching the fish in the aquarium out of the corner of my eye. Two of the little loaches had ventured out to feed. They are shy creatures and I seldom see them, so I stopped to watch.
One of them was the original hitchhiking loach that had survived an almost waterless journey on a plant, the other was one of the juveniles I had procured to keep him company. The original loach has grown, losing the ‘vermisimilitude’ that had horrified me when I found him, and is looking far more like a fish, while the smaller of the two still looks very like a brightly coloured worm. In all other respects, they appear identical… time is the only difference between them.
Together, the fish and the article got me thinking about the process of growth. We never notice it happening, we only notice when it has happened. From child to adult, we grow…some of us more than others and each at our own pace. We notice when we have grown tall enough to do certain things, like reaching the pedals on that new racing bike you were given for your birthday. Or not, in my case; I never did grow into it. But we are not conscious of it actually happening while it happens.
We see ourselves in the mirror and wonder when we got old. Even though we knew the time was passing, the years were stacking up and things had begun to ache that never ached before, we are unaware of it occurring. The process of growth, be it upwards, outwards or in age, happens behind our back; we are unaware of it, regardless of its known inevitability, until something brings the results of that process to our attention.
Equally, growth of a less positive kind can creep up on us too. The negative self image that is imposed or self-generated, the fears and fragilities we are bear, they seldom spring fully formed from the mists…they grow slowly, chpping away at our confidence and self-worth, until we are confronted by the ruin of what we once were and what we still could be. The process of healing such wounds takes far longer than it does for a careless word to cause them.
Change happens, whether we notice it or not. One day we will find that we can reach the cookie jar at last, or our jeans no longer fasten, or, in a land of wishful thinking, they are suddenly too big… We become conscious of change only when its effects are forced upon our notice, not as the process of change happens. We need milestones to measure the progress of process.
There are other growing processes that also need milestones to measure their progress. The acquisition of knowledge is measured by examinations or our ability to apply it to practical situations. A new skill is set against the completion of a project. But how can we measure the growth of more abstract qualities, like wisdom, understanding or compassion?
It serves little to listen to the words of others, be they complimentary or derogatory; for growth to have happened, we must be more than we were, and unless the other person has watched us grow, they cannot know what we used to be.
The loaches are twice as long as the tetras in the aquarium. The tetras are twice as fat as the threadfins and yet the pleco could eat the lot in one gulp. They are all fully grown, and it is simply how they are supposed to be. In the same way, our own nature, and the nature of our personal growth, cannot be measured against that of anyone else.
We are who we are and, whether or not we are aware of the process, we are in a state of constant growth and change. Each day adds something to the sum of our knowledge, each moment offers the chance of a new beginning and every experience may add to the store of wisdom and understanding.
Our physical growth may be finite… we may reach our full height before we reach the pedals of that bike, or end up towering above our parents, but our personal growth knows no such limits and we will always be works in progress. Our capacity for growth, like our ability to embrace change seems infinite, even when we do not notice the ongoing process, but only blink at the milestones.