A word from the aged: How you’ll know

Thank you so much for your kind words this week. I liked hearing from you, and in everything that you are experiencing I wish you joy. <3

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, a wrinkled and graying self-portrait. I wrote it but could not bring myself to publish it; I feared shocking the world with the darkness. Now I am light enough to share it, and parts of it make me grin, as they were meant to. So – don’t forget what I said last time. We are loved. And next week we will move on to brighter things.

I hear the echo of the old folk’s voices, and this is what they say…

You will know you have become an adult, son, when one day you notice there is no one standing over you saying good job, honey. Way to go. You’re so amazing and talented, look at you. This will be your first clue that you have arrived: the non-cheering.

You will know you’re an adult when the work you get paid for is so small a fraction of your real work that you’re not sure what to call what you do. The real work never ends and sometimes at the end of the day you cross it all off the list whether it’s done or not, because it looks better that way; maybe your priorities changed since morning. People will not know precisely what you do. They will ask, and look polite, and not know. They will become recipients of your work without knowing it, and when they notice it at last they will not know that you did it.

Now you are an adult. This is how we live here.

If a friend says Ah, we were just talking about you, and We thought you’d be the right person, and You’re so good at… you will not feel flattered anymore; you will shoot a glance at the nearest exit because you will know. This is not about you being good. This is about work needing to be done by someone, and they picked you as the person most likely to offer least resistance.

You will know, because you will wake up one morning and discover that you have become a cranky old toot, and it was easier than you thought it would be. You will be unfailingly nice to people (mostly), because you have your big boy shorts on and that is what you want to do, but inside you will at times be burnt to a crisp by the feelings you cannot feel, the scorching ironies you cannot point out. You will have seen what is true. People are rude and worthless and unbelievable. To you. And you go on.

You will see yourself there among the worthless ones. You did not emerge from your cocoon with wings, and you will increasingly feel you are simply making the best of a bad situation. You hoped to be a kinder person than you are, a better citizen, a truer friend.

You will feel like a fraud and a fake much of the time, because you have invested a lot of energy into things that did not turn out like you thought they would; people do not always see this and you cannot always talk about it. When they praise you, it will hurt a little. You will become unable to touch certain places in your mind without wincing, and sometimes people will be clumsy and jog one of them.

You may find you prefer a cup of coffee and silence to any activity in the universe.

Your books and music will turn subtly darker, like your coffee, and your silence, and your universe.

When young people talk, you may bite your lip to keep from telling them it’s not like that in the real world. You will feel pity sometimes when you should feel joy.

Speaking about what you are thinking will be harder. The easy babblers with the fresh faces will assume it is because you are not thinking, but this is not the case. There are too many words to choose from, and none without consequences.

You will know that of the many paths you could have walked, you happened upon one: not the best one, but one. Though you did not know everything then, you lived, and life chose for you. There are many things you will not be good at now, much you will never experience firsthand. Your life has a shape, and keeps you.

That is how you will know you have become an adult.

Congratulations. You have arrived.

Now turn, son, and walk back the way you’ve come. Unlearn your life’s slow training in self-preservation and wisdom and skepticism. Reach to touch. There was another truth you knew before you knew the truth. For the rest of your life, your task will be to uncover trust in each of the places you were burned – to smile, to become like a little child, to watch for the new day.