There are moments when I can still smell possibility. Moments like meeting a cool artist at MAC, or moments when I go to an event I helped run last year and see how far people I encouraged have come.
Those moments, though, come with reminders. I am no longer 28, and even the pastor I worked most closely with last year announced that he forgot who hooked him up with the song he sang. (It was me, just in case you missed the point.)
Every whiff of possibility nowadays always comes with the aroma of burning, of time passed and chances crisped.
Peter Morgan, who writes “The Crown,” explains why season three recast the queen with an older actress by noting that however perfectly you age a younger actor they will never have the inner experience of being battered by time, of feeling the aches in their body and the disconnection from youth. He needed that truth for his show to work well.
Even at sessions dedicated to creating intergenerational connections within the LGBT population, I have been completely shut down, my truth erased by young people who can’t imagine. Only the straight, mature woman sitting next to me saw what was happening.
How do I communicate my experience to people who not only haven’t been through it but are also so immersed in the position they need to be in at this stage of their lives that they can’t hear beyond their present experience?
The world has changed for people like me, yes, but the age cohort I am embedded within have not changed as much as the world in general. Most people haven’t had to do the kind of work I have done, the blossoming and opening, the expansion of understanding and communication.
Every day I get farther and farther away from a place of safety, comfort and understanding. My possibilities contract and the truth I reflect becomes more and more uncomfortable for people who are trying to stay young and connected.
I know how to be the grown-up, to bite the bullet and do the right thing. I do this often.
What I don’t know is how to find the connection and understanding which lets me relax and play, feeling like all of me is seen and valued.
For me, this isn’t a new experience. Growing up with two Asperger’s parents means that I felt unseen and unvalued from a very early age, needing to be able to take care of my family because of their lack of theory of mind.
The fact that I have built up the skills, though, well, it doesn’t mean that the work gets easier. As I age, alone, my recovery time gets longer, my view darker, my isolation deeper.
I know that my work counts, no matter how much it remains invisible to most. But I also know that only more work has any chance of breaking me out of this cycle, getting visible in a way that brings rewards and connection, and more work demands more of me than I seem to be able to muster these days.
The wisdom I carry is deep and profound, but when it can only be absorbed in small bites by others, the parcelling itself becomes more effort than it is worth. I may have spent a lifetime getting a clear vision, a good model of better, but if it takes others a lifetime to grasp and value it, well, I am forever out of synchronization.
Possibilities exist, but the power to grasp them shrinks. My experience of working with others until I reach their tension point, the place where they have to pull back, to resist what I have to share, to cling to a sense of control, is an experience of having people act out against me, not because I am wrong but because they fear, deeply fear, that I just might be right. They act out of fear rather than love and I am the one who takes the hit, knowing that they are doing the best they can do, but leaving me needing an ice pack and some aspirin, trying to recover from the blow alone.
None of this is new, of course. It is laced through my writing over many years. But the burnt smell feels like it is getting stronger as I seem to have more challenges and less resources to handle them.
I love the idea of new possibilities. I hate the truth that new failures will be required even try and claim them, with no guarantee that any one will deliver better.
Giving up, though, is giving up.