Somewhere in the universe of fiction, careening through space and time, is a man who doesn’t die. Instead, when his body is killed, he regenerates: new body, new personality, but the same memories. This man is called Doctor Who (from the eponymous British television show) and he is a Timelord. I believe that he has a lot to teach us humans.
Every once in a while, something happens and our lives change irrevocably. Whether we take a new job, lose a loved one, suffer an illness, or just find ourselves feeling dissatisfied with life, our identities are changed forever, whether we will it or not. We struggle against this, because we know it is a kind of death – not a physical death, but the death of the person who we were before. Like Doctor Who and his race, when we “die” our core self remains the same, but a lot of the external details upon which we base our self-image will change, and that terrifies us, leading us to try to cling to the old life as hard as we can.
As it turns out, the prospect of that kind of change can frighten Timelords, as well as humans. When the tenth incarnation of the Doctor knows his death is coming, he explains to a friend that knowing that he will regenerate is not a comfort. He says “Even if I change, it feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I’m dead.” That is exactly what we fear, isn’t it? That if we allow ourselves to change, to adapt to circumstances too much, some part of us will die.
The Doctor tries to fight the change, but it comes anyway. He is given a choice – he can allow an innocent man to die, or he can die himself and regenerate. If he had chosen to allow his friend to die, that would have changed the Doctor in a very different way. It would have betrayed the core of who he is – the part of him that has remained constant from regeneration to regeneration – and he could not let that happen. So he faced his fear and chose to remain true to himself. Still, his last words before regenerating are “I don’t want to go.”
Sometimes we are faced with a similar choice, either to betray ourselves or face change head on. One way we do this is to stay in a job or relationship that is toxic to us. The fact is, doing that changes us anyway, as it eats away at who we really are. It corrodes our spirit, while facing the situation head on – taking control of it with full knowledge that change is coming – allows us to grow.
Sometimes we embrace the change. The Ninth Doctor was a very different character. Dark and moody, he had lost faith in himself (and possibly the universe) some time ago. Then, in The Parting of Ways, he finds redemption at the cost of his current incarnation. As his body dies, right before he begins the dramatic regeneration, his last words to his companion are “Rose, before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I.” In that moment, he recognizes his need to change radically, to leave behind the role he had been playing and to begin a new one. He recognizes that he has been fantastic, and at the same time recognizes it is time to move on.
Change is inevitable. The only thing you can really control is whether you surrender to it, or fight it. Which will it be?