Heraclitus of Ephesus said it. “Change is the only constant in life.” or more popularly translated as, “The only constant is change.” It is doubtful anyone would disagree with Heraclitus but Heraclitus never met Joseph (Joe) Murphy.
Growing up in the small island province of Prince Edward Island, Canada meant that a certain amount of change was likely inevitable for Joe. As urban sprawl began to swallow up the smaller agricultural towns characteristic of the province, Joe saw change happening regularly in his early years. Fortunately, growing up on the leading edge of these changes, Joe had a childhood where the values of curiosity, participation in community, personal growth and excellence were instilled in him. He recalls watching his mother manage the adjustment from being a ‘big-city, well-educated, independent woman’ to being that woman in a rural setting by accepting every opportunity to participate in the community in ways that were familiar to its residents. Never wavering from who she was yet always adapting to her surroundings. Joe saw how his mother managed change positively, and it marked him significantly for the journey ahead.
There were the requisite formative things in Joe’s upbringing; swim lessons, chores and play times. For example, Joe would often play “school” with his friends, something that as he looks back on now that showed where his vocational passion would be found. Isn’t it interesting how so many of us, this writer included, express our true selves in play as children and then follow a path that deviates from that persona? Joe had a similar experience as he followed his heart of compassion for the community and people into a degree in social work but did not find his way to his teaching degree and his real passion until financial circumstances warranted a change. Accomplishing the switch to a teaching degree and certification in an act of change management indicative of his life journey, Joe did find that passion in his vocation as an elementary school teacher with “on the edge” students where he could have maximum positive impact on the students’ lives and his own. But it wasn’t until a life-threatening incident that Joe cemented his world-view and realized his nature as a change manager and advocate.
Those of us who live near ocean waters should know that there is a delicate balance at times between the refreshing, exhilarating feeling of frolicking in the crashing waves and the terrifying feeling of succumbing to their strength and being pulled under. Joe experienced this in a horrifying fashion. After a successful career as a teacher, Joe had found his standard of believing that no child does not want to learn and penchant to assist with those students who had been labelled as troublesome in one way or another threatened by an increasingly politicized system. Joe refused to participate in a system where politics destroyed the natural curiosity of children and had taken a sabbatical to discover a better venue for his passion to teach. Finding himself teaching abroad in private schools who valued his perspective and ethos, he found himself in Bali enjoying a day in the water there. Without warning a rip current came up and began to drag him both under and out. It was too strong to fight and he floundered as the burgeoning current showed no mercy. Were it not for his love of learning from his childhood and his retention of his swim lessons he would surely have perished. Gathering what wits he could in the moment, he began to swim sideways as nearby fishermen in boats raced to his aid. Seconds from his final breath, Joe managed to hit the sand as helpers reached him. Exhausted and momentarily crippled by the effort, only one clear thought rang out in Joe’s mind, “Nothing matters.” As Joe tells the story I will admit that I was initially taken aback by the thought, but as Joe explains I am reminded that it is one of the most profound and life-giving concepts that one can realize. Solomon himself, known as one of the wisest men in history had the same conclusion in his wisdom literature. “Nothing matters” is not a ‘cop-out’ or a shirking of responsibility but is, in fact, the most responsible statement one can make as they realize that the temporary nature of life demands a response that embraces each moment, each opportunity and fearlessly accepts and seeks change where necessary to live life to the full. As Joe struggled with the current, he also wrestled with life and decided, “I am not going to do what I don’t want to do!” characteristically finding clarity and purpose in chaotic circumstances.
From that point forward Joe has immersed himself in promoting positive life changes to those who seek them. Metamorphosing himself to adapt to the task in the prevailing social climate, Joe has continually found ways to express his heart for human development and personal growth in himself and others. As he expresses his concern over the state of mental health and how isolation is exacerbating the problems of mainstream culture accepting and recognizing those who are different, I am inspired by his unconditional affection for all persons. Our conversation turns toward the heartbreaking ill effects of such isolation in such atrocious incidents as the Orlando shootings and Joe’s radiant smile slips away for a moment as he comments, “We lost him.” meaning that society was not able to engage the shooter and the isolation and mental health issues the young man was experiencing at the time aided and abetted his terrible choice to lash out. Joe has helped countless individuals to come out of such isolation and to find fulfillment in discovering and managing positive changes leaving a legacy of people whose lives are lived much like Joe’s; with a relentless optimism, compassion, joy and courage to continue to change and grow. One might even say that Joe’s epiphany of “Nothing matters” has lead many to leading lives that truly matter on a daily basis.
As I listen to Joe share the story of his current relationship and how communication, shared values and respect have made it wonderful, I cannot help but think that if Heraclitus had met him, would have liked Joe. As Joe explains that to better understand his partner he attended Al-Anon meetings and continues on to share a story of teaching at an AA convention about successful relationships and effective communication in them, I hear Heraclitus’ words echo in my mind, “No man steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Joe has stepped in the river many times; sometimes in raging currents and other times in the calm and gurgle of a peaceful crossing. Each time he has approached with an open heart and one constant, unrelenting motivation; to change as needed without fear and for the better of himself and the greater good. Change, constant as ever and Joe, ever constant in change.
Thank you Joe, for our lesson together.
P.S. Among his many talents Joe is also an actor and avid supporter of community theatre. The cast and crew of The Best of Broadway now playing at The Boutique Dinner Theatre in Puerto Vallarta has benefited greatly from his expert stage management and more so from his exuberant support and positive energy. Tickets are still available. Come on out!