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.

The words you gave me

We apologize for the delay. The proprietor of this blog wishes to state that she was temporarily flattened by pizza sauce, sweet corn, and birthday parties.

Aw, you guys are so fun!

It’s chancy putting a game out there and not knowing if anyone will want to play. I loved watching you dig into your bookshelves. Your booklist was charming – reference books, all-time favorites, and even one of my dad’s titles – ranging from serious to slapstick. There were some classics, some inspirational, and some dry as toast, with a splash of whiskey (not recommended at home). Your kindness to me and each other was delightful. Thank you.

Did you know that one of you arranges her books by the colors of the rainbow – which pleases me to no end?

And these words…!

My friend Sheila emailed me to say that she checked four bookshelves hoping for something good. Four! and found “of” twice. “It’s a random word, dear, not a Message From Jehovah,” I told her. Her next email made me laugh. “At least it rhymes with love, she says, straightening.”

My friend Cris found page sixteen completely blank, between the introduction and part one of a medical tome. Very significant, that. If only I knew in what way.

We ended up with two main characters, Pat and Charles, besides dad and God. Your “boring” words held everything together (theoretically), and you had some winner nouns even though they didn’t know how to play nice with the other kids. The washstand and the R.R. were particularly unwieldy.

The following paragraph uses each of the words given me to date, and only those words, although some of them are used more than once.

Those schemes for the back door breakfast analogy you want will have dad as God. I want more green smoke for you. Pat schemes to have Charles for early breakfast. The washstand is in the windy October world. Charles is packing. Pat helps. I said I loved today. Charles had that last o’clock of life. The R.R. voices will have soul’s word in it. In Pat’s defense, I observe that Charles will have loved God.

I mean honestly, guys, it’s not a thing of great beauty. You can do better than this.

Are you sure you checked the right bookshelf?


Well, that was silly and fun. What would you compose from our word list?

The fourth word on the page

Confession: This past Sunday morning I was trying to impress my Sunday school kids with how smart God is.

He knows how many hairs are on your head, I said, even counting the ones that fell out while you were brushing them this morning.

He knows how many leaves are on that tree.

He knows what’s going to happen next.

He knows what you’re thinking inside your mind, whether or not you’re listening to me. (I can’t tell.)

There is no question you could ask him that he wouldn’t know the answer to.

You could say, Think of the Meadville Public Library, upstairs, tenth book on the top shelf, page sixteen, what’s the fourth word on the page? And he would know just like that.

I could tell they were listening then; their mouths opened.

I didn’t really expect that to say that. I guess it’s true. Is it true?

Okay, but ever since then I can’t stop thinking about those books. At home, I went to my nearest bookshelf, pulled the tenth book from the top shelf, opened to page sixteen, looked for the fourth word. It was –

But I am getting ahead of myself.

I thought it would be fun if you told me what yours is. Maybe it’s a secret code. Maybe together we would spell out something of great beauty. It would be fun to try.

At the very least, if we said what book it came from, we could compile a delightfully random to-read list.

The Mandela Effect and me

Confession: When I used the word chartreuse in a blog post and some of you said you had to look it up, I decided I ought to as well, to see if Google Images showed the color I had in mind.

It did.

(For something breathtaking, try googling chartreuse and gray.)

It also led me down a pleasantly unrelated path into the intricacies of the human brain, which remembers things that are not, and mistakes things that are.

I found that many, many people are confused about the word chartreuse, and “distinctly remember” it being previously a dark reddish-purple instead of a light yellow-green. How does that happen? they said. My mother was an artist, and I knew! It was on a Crayola crayon, and I knew!

This led me into briefly researching the Mandela Effect, of which I’d never heard (meanwhile my dishes were not getting washed). The Mandela Effect describes collective false memory, when a large group of people remembers something that apparently never happened – such as many people feeling sure that the Berenstain Bears were once spelled Berenstein. The “Mandela” piece comes from a large number of people “remembering” that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 80’s, whereas he actually died in bed in 2013.

It tickles my brain. How can we remember what is not?

This leads some folks down the path toward conspiracy theory, paranormal explanations, and alternate realities. I don’t follow. I attribute it instead to confusion – substituting this for that. For example, someone pointed out that chartreuse is not a very different word from cerise, which IS a pinkish-reddish-purple Crayola color. And probably there was a famous black man who died in prison in the 80’s, and people saw his funeral on TV and got him confused with Mr. Mandela. Or they believed he was going to die until, in their minds, he did. Then too, many cited Mandela Effect cases involve discrepancies in spelling, such as for KitKat (not Kit-Kat with a hyphen) and Chick-fil-A (not Chik-fil-A or any variant). Easy to get goofed up about a thing like that – I found it rather amusing than not.

Then I went to a party and created a false memory of my own, which was not as funny.

I attended a Lilla Rose event at a friend’s house, and was pleased with the FlexiClip. I wondered how it kept from slipping apart, and so when I saw one up close, I distinctly noted the grooves for the catch, lined up in a row of three for three different size adjustments. They were deep and sharp, angled like a backslash to avoid the wire slipping out. I thought the consultant even called attention to this clever design. One of the women had trouble releasing the clasp once it was in her hair, and had to be told to push the clip farther together, to get the catch past its groove so it could release.

It was a lovely design, I thought.

Several weeks later, when my FlexiClip arrived, my first thought upon pulling it out of the package was “Oh no! The grooves are all wrong!” They were smooth, flat little half-moons, utterly unable to keep anything from sliding out unless the hair itself added strong outward pressure to hold it in place. I complained to my consultant (who compared with her stock and said it looked the same to her, but kindly offered to exchange for a smaller size if it was having trouble staying in my hair), and I looked online (where every image I found of the FlexiClip showed it identical in design to the one that I held in my hand).


I realize it’s not really the Mandela Effect, because I am the only one mistaken, although one friend initially agreed with me: “Your grooves should not be like that!” Later we concluded we must have the same kind of brain.

But – How could I have distinctly remembered something imaginary? How could I have come up with three separate memories to verify my impression? I had 1) a visual {clear mental image of what the clip looked like}, 2) a verbal {comment by the consultant on the nice design to avoid slipping}, and 3) a case in point {when another guest struggled to release the clasp}.

How could I have invented at first glance a better design than what was?

You tell me and Mr. Mandela – and maybe I can sleep again at night.

The book in question

Well, the book that quote came from was actually the Holy Bible… howbeit, from the slightly renovated version known as The Message (however large a disclaimer you feel that to be).

Here is the quote again:

Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.

And here is the King James:

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (Romans 2:1)

Please don’t freak out. You didn’t say anything disrespectful of the Bible, though I admit I enjoyed grinning over your source suggestions, and your corrections of the text. Perhaps that was not quite fair of me. Some of them were quite astute though.

Anyway, you are right on this – that a Bible passage has a context, and when it is pulled out of that context and embraced to the exclusion of all other Bible passages, it can be extremely misleading. This particular verse was a piece I badly needed to hear; it’s not the whole picture. There are balancing Bible passages on speaking out in defense of the oppressed, making judgements that are right and just and impartial, and the urgent appropriateness of the church judging its own people who sin.

So now what? Are you annoyed with me? Your comments, as always, were entirely delightful. Thank you for speaking up.