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.

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Elizabeth A Hershberger
6 years ago

? (hug) one of my favorite verses is “Thou God seest me” especially in its context.

Elizabeth A Hershberger
6 years ago

Btw, my heart is crying with you; the adult world is shockingly different than my youth.

Vivian T
6 years ago

That’s a powerful lot of insight all in one place.

Kathryn Swartz
6 years ago

This prose is poetry. Or a mirror. I can’t decide. It makes me want to be okay with arriving. Thank you for writing it. Wow.

Kathryn Swartz
6 years ago
Reply to  Kathryn Swartz

*arriving back as a little child, that is.

6 years ago

My first reaction was “cynicism :-)”
Exactly that. Then, I thought, “The words about a place in your brain where it’s painful to touch are abstract but true.” And I winced a little about the young babblers.
But your conclusion, your conclusion is what I believe Jesus meant when He said we must become like little children to enter His Kingdom.

6 years ago
Reply to  Yolanda

My thoughts were similar. It feels uncomfortable to read these words and look honestly at these feelings, because we try so hard not to feel them. So I was uncomfortable.
Then the further I read, the more I thought, no, I have these thoughts too, but oh dear, it’s so dark.
Then I came to the end, and my heart bounded I’m agreement, because this is precisely what I feel God is asking me to do right now: to let go of the crust of cynicism that has cracked over the burns and bruises and to “run through the fields” with Him again.
You were unwittingly used, Shari! ?

6 years ago

The darkness didn’t shock me at all. I’m glad someone else feels this way too at times.

6 years ago

I’m glad you posted this! It was great fodder to ponder and exercise my mind to think about these truths for myself and go deeper. I really think too that it’s in this stage that Jesus’ calling to become like little children is real, everyday life. Could the realities of adulthood be so that we see our need of re-entering the “birth canal” and becoming His children now, instead of earthly children of our earthy parents? In other words, it’s our “birth canal” to receiving spiritual, unseen sonship and the “unlearning” process is the growing up into God’s children… don’t know if any of this makes sense but it’s been interesting to think about!

6 years ago

“There are too many words to choose from, and none without consequences.”

I love your words. Maybe they are hard to write, but please keep doing it.

6 years ago

Beautiful writing, and I feel like that about growing up, too. The many parts that got me the most: how being a cranky oldster is easier than I thought; how often we have to bite our tongues about what we see, and about what young people say about life!; how I hoped to be a better person; how praise now hurts sometimes; how wonderful silence is; how life has a shape, and keeps you – and even though I now enjoy art that doesn’t always end on a high note, it IS nice to have those moments when I’m all like a child again and can appreciate it! Thanks for the post

6 years ago

Wow. This resonated.

6 years ago


6 years ago

Thank you. What insight and honesty. Good job honey, way to go! ?

6 years ago

I so get it! And envy your retreat. Where might I find one, beings I never dared open my heart to foster? (I sometimes think losing a mother at a young age has made me feel too keenly for little ones who are torn from the familiar and I’m afraid my heart couldn’t take it.)

6 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Good idea. Shari Zook for speaker. 🙂

6 years ago

I find myself in the same places at times… and too scared of myself and the consequences to voice them. I enjoy a cup of coffee and silence much more than I thought possible–knowing me! But the part that resonated with me most– “For the rest of your life, your task will be to uncover trust in each of the places you were burned” What an impossible task without the touch of God. Definitely my prayer!!

6 years ago

I’m glad someone said it. Thank you.

6 years ago

I didn’t find this cynical or shocking, just refreshingly transparent. Maybe I’m blind to my own levels of cynicism. 😉 anyway, I identify in so many ways, and your conclusion has given me a lot to chew on.

6 years ago

I followed you through each “dark” paragraph, knowing the wrenching things you so aptly described.
And then the last paragraph. The hope and beauty it breathes!
I felt God’s beckoning touch…
Just wow.

Bethany Engbretson
6 years ago

This was the clincher for me. I am an adult now because I have felt all those things at one time or another. Thank you!

6 years ago

Your line about darker books, music, and coffee is so true! I was chagrined to see the connection a while ago and wondered if it was a normal sign of aging (along with the darker clothing and weather from my younger days). Yikes, I worry about moldering in gloom.

The thoughts of this post mirror mine on the darker days. Sometimes my cynicism wears the cooler, formal tone of your post and other times it’s much more whiny such as Why does this have to be so hard? and It’s not fair! I think you are right: the cost of joy in the face of such knowledge is what Christ calls us to.

Twila Smucker
6 years ago

Oh my, I identify with all of this!!!

6 years ago

Thankyou. I’ve read here off and on but never commented… but this post is what I needed today…as I sat on the couch with my 8 week old son with reflux… I felt very ‘adulted’ at age 22…but am sure I’ll feel more at 32. Thanks for the inspiration 2 months late. May God bless you and yours

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