It Would Have Been Nice
A couple of weeks ago I saw someone I love at LaGuardia airport, but we did not talk. The person came out of the bathroom just as I was walking by, our gates on opposite sides of the concourse. The person almost ran into me. My heart raced and was broken, all in a span of seconds.
I hurried to the American Admiral’s Club where I texted my close friend, Jen, who was waiting for her flight on another concourse. I wanted to take the shuttle over and find her. I needed a friend. Instead I read a David Whyte poem on my phone and wiped tears from my eyes.
I assumed I knew where the person was headed and I was correct, going to another city on another airline. As I walked toward my flight I glanced over at the presumed gate and there the person was, seated with a family member, waiting to board.
I used to be close to this person, respected the person’s intelligence and wit, and thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together. Why didn’t I say hello? Because this person has not reached out to me since I came out. No email, phone call, card or note. I have not written the person either, and that is by design. When I have initiated contact with evangelicals from my previous life, it has not gone well. So I have learned to wait until they initiate contact with me.
I definitely no longer walk up and identify myself to any evangelical friends I see in an airport. One former friend told a coworker he had seen me. The coworker complained to the leadership where I was headed to speak, considering it unacceptable that I should be permitted to address that particular audience. (My experience with non-evangelical friends has been completely different. But alas, most of my previous life was lived among evangelicals.)
On a flight from Phoenix a few months ago I sat next to a man with whom I frequently worked for a couple of decades. He had no clue he was speaking with me. He called me ma’am. The person in New York also had no idea it was me, and did not suspect I was anything other than the tall woman I am. The person looked straight at me without recognition.
It was difficult. I have lost much of the life of Paul. I have many wonderful new friends, some of the best friends of my life really, but they are people who never knew Paul. The number of long-time friends who speak as freely about Paul as they do about Paula can be counted on one hand.
The experience of my family and close friends is instructive. No one from an evangelical background talks with them about Paul. They share no memories, open no scrapbooks, and make no mention of the decades we spent together. It is as though Paul has died. When someone dies, people usually share memories. No one shares memories about Paul. They don’t know what to do, so they erase me from the narrative. When they are in contact with my friends and family, they speak of their previous life together, but they leave out the person who shared that life with them.
I hope you are not reading any anger into this post. I am not angry, just sad. I am sad it is so difficult for so many people. I am sad that with a few precious exceptions, the people from my previous life find it too hard to acknowledge both Paul and Paula.
There are a lot of people I loved when I was Paul, people like the person I saw at LaGuardia. It is painful to no longer be able to visit with those precious souls. And to actually be within inches of a person you love but unable to say, “Hey, what are you doing here? It is so, so good to see you!” That was awful. It was as though I had been split in two. It filled me with sorrow. When I got on the plane I thought of Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem, The Limited:
I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains of the nation. Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people. (All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.) I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: “Omaha.”
It seems such a tragedy that I saw someone I love, yet I did not feel I could speak. Life is short. We are not traveling to Omaha. We are traveling to the end of our days, and what is lost is lost.
And so it goes.
13 thoughts on “It Would Have Been Nice”
If you ever see me please come and say hello. It would bother me if you didn’t. And if you happen to be in the Orlando area let me know. Not sure if you know I’ve moved to TItusville FL. Would like the chance to visit with you. Glad you are doing well.
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I didn’t know you’d moved Mike. Like all Long Islanders, you ended up in Florida! send me your email address and I’ll let you know the next time I’m in the Orlando area. firstname.lastname@example.org
Paula, thank you for sharing this. I can’t imagine how hard and oftentimes sad these encounters can be. I’m so thankful that you are sharing your journey and giving hope to those on this road. Honored to know you!
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Thank you so much Annie. You are always so thoughtful.
Paula, I so share your feeling of hurt. Mother’s Day was especially hard this year. It’s been 25 years since I’ve seen my mother, not to mention my father and two brothers. They are all alive and (I presume) well, but they will have nothing to do with me. I’m not angry or hateful toward them, just sad – I miss them. I wrote a little while ago on my site how I think people in our lives may feel that in our transition, we’ve killed the person they know and love, and they don’t know how to love this “new” person in their life.
So they’re angry, probably resentful and there certainly isn’t any reasoning with them. At first they grieve and at least in my case it seems that anger has just festered with them over the years. Unlike how no one talks about Paul with your family, my family doesn’t talk about me – it’s a topic NOT on the table.
I have a nephew who is 30 that I recently connected with a few months ago. He didn’t even know I existed until I contacted him. When he asked his father (my brother) about “who is this Laurie” I guess things pretty well blew up. But my nephew and his wife (also evangelical) have been nothing but welcoming and loving to me.
Don’t put all evangelicals into the same bucket. It’s not an evangelical thing, it’s a people thing. Myself, I’m evangelical and have many evangelical friends who know my history. That being said, it’s much easier with people who have only known me as Laurie. I did lose my closest friend when I transitioned. All I can say is it will always be hard for some people to wrap their head around and for others just impossible. As for my parents, you are so right… we are traveling to the end of our days, I can only hope and pray that we won’t run out of days before breaking the silence. Maybe next Mother’s Day will be a great one – where would we be without hope?
Blessings my friend.
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Thanks Laurie. And I don’t want to characterize all evangelicals. I only know what my own experience has been with the evangelicals who are in my life.
The heart remains the same in the person pictured in both of these photos. I know I’ve mentioned to you before but you have always been someone that demonstrated such grace, love and compassion to those around you, including myself when my heart was hurting. If I were to see you now I would give you a huge hug! Thank you for who you are and how you continue to share God’s Love with those around you and those who are fortunate enough to still hear you speak.
And I keep hoping I will see you Anita. I would have no hesitance to come up and hug you. I miss you!
This story makes me sad on so many levels. It makes me sad for you – for the ache in your heart – for the lost friendship, for the silenced stories, for the lost shared joy, for the lost nourished hearts, for the lost new news, for lost reminisced histories, and for the lost grateful hearts. Life is so short and these gifts of friendship and history are such a precious gift.
I am sad for what your friend has missed in the wisdom of faith, and heart of knowing Paula. To know the fullness of you, what stories you could not share, and now are sharing – and how this tells us so much more about God’s love, wisdom and sustenance – and so much more about the lack inside our churches and inside our faith. To listen to you now, is to know so much more about the struggle of gender inside the church as well – and how we can move forward in supporting the gifts of our people more fully – celebrating difference with the same tenacity that we have celebrated sameness.
I am also sad for their loss to the expansiveness of the love of Jesus. I am reminded of the story in Luke 13 of the woman who could not stand up straight, and Jesus took her hand and she stood up straight. One poet in reflecting on this story said –
A woman is bent
Surely, You mean when You lifted her up
long ago to Your praise, Compassionate One,
not one woman only,
but all women bent by unbending ways. (Miriam Therese Winter)
To fail to understand that Jesus leaves no one out, to me is both a tragedy of scarcity and to be left with a fear that someday, I too will not be enough. However, Jesus preached a God who is all-inclusive-love; who lets the sun shine and the rain fall equally on all. This brings about justice and well-being, and gives us an opportunity to stop judging and placing people in hierarchies. And instead, to deeply listen and learn from each other. This is a great gift! For me, this is where my faith is challenged, where I find my sweetest friends, and where I find I grow the most – in letting go and deeply listening.
Thanks for sharing this story, Paula. Thanks for your courage, vulnerability, and transparency. Thanks for bringing the fullness of YOU to this world and to the conversation. I believe your voice is being called forth. And I for one, am grateful!
xo – Tina
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Thank you so, so much, Tina. What you wrote was so beautiful! And that poem…
Hi, I don’t know you but I saw a Tex talk that I liked and, just out of curiosity, I tried to find pictures of you as Paul. I googled your current name and found a couple of pictures one of which led me here. I didn’t read the post then, I just started looking for some other pictures of Paul and I only found three or four, no matter how much data I googled I only found those same pictures. I don’t want you to misunderstand me, Paula, I admire your courage, your intelligence and your determination. It’s just that since you’ve made this public, those of us who don’t know you rely on the only thing we have to know about you: the Internet. And I asked myself: how is Paul going to be remembered, even if you talk about that part of your life, if it is mostly erased from the greatest source of information that exists?
I understand that here you were only talking about those who had known you before, so I hope you take it for what it is: the opinion of an unknown person who wanted to contribute with how it looks from the outside. So just take it that way. If this brought you something good, fine, if not… don’t even consider it. After all, you’re where you wanted to be and you’ve managed to be who you wanted to be.
All my admiration and respect for you.
I love your writing, Paula. I’m skipping all through your blog reading about your journey.
I know your life is filled with love, and is easier today, but I still just want to give you a hug. 🙂
I think you are brave and wonderful.
Thank you so much Becca. It has been quite a journey!