Good Work on a Gray December Day

Over the last couple of years Jonathan and I have done several podcasts and a few television and radio shows.  Most of the time the hosts want to focus on how my transition affected my son and our family, with a secondary focus on how the churches we serve handled it all.  Jonathan is always articulate, honest and gracious.

In December we were interviewed for All the Wiser, a podcast featured by Apple Podcasts last week and listed as one of the top 50 social and cultural podcasts in the nation.  The host of the podcast is Kimi Culp, a former producer for NBC, ABC, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

On the day of the show the Denver sky was gray and the air felt more like a winter day in Seattle than a typical cold sunny day in Denver.  My mother had passed away two weeks earlier and I was fighting a terrible cold.  As we went into the studio where we would be connected to Kimi in LA, I was out of sorts, thinking more about the TEDxMileHigh event Jonathan and I would be leading that night than the 90-minute conversation we were headed into.

Jonathan and I sat across a table from each other, mouths close to the windscreens of our microphones, only our eyes visible to each other.  Kimi deftly switched back and forth between us with her probing and thoughtful questions.  I’d heard Jonathan answer most of the questions before.  On Red Table Talk I watched as both Jonathan and Jana articulately and emotionally spoke of the journey of the past six years.  That show has been viewed over 3.5 million times, our family story out there for the world to dissect and judge as each viewer sees fit.

On this particular December day I was emotionally exhausted.  When the interview was over I felt like my responses had been perfunctory at best.  Jonathan, as always, had been articulate and poised, honest and gracious.  While I know that telling our story is for the greater good, it is hard to hear over and over how your calling was someone else’s nightmare.  Of course, my calling was my nightmare too.  We virtually never experience a call as a moment of joy.  A call is always to a deeper and more difficult journey, more akin to a nightmare than a sweet story.  But as any Jungian therapist knows, nightmares are necessary.  They bring difficult subjects to the surface and demand that we pay them mind.  Telling and retelling our story is always exhausting, but it is also always cathartic.

Yesterday Kimi sent me the link to the podcast. It went live earlier this week. http://bit.ly/ATW_PaulaJonathanWilliams  I had no intention of listening to it last night but decided to listen to the first minute or two to see if I sounded as tired as I was that day.  Before I knew it, I had listened to the entire podcast.

Kimi asks questions as one acquainted with pain, unafraid of delving into its depths, whether it be in her own life or the lives of those she interviews.  Her questions were compassionate and thoughtful.  When it ended I thought, “All the people on that podcast were trying to get it right, to tell the truth as they understood it, clearly, succinctly, and redemptively.”

I closed the podcast and turned to one of the books I am currently reading, Living an Examined Life, by James Hollis.  I opened to page 61, where I had stopped earlier in the day, and immediately read these words:

“There is no going forward without a death of some kind:  a death of who we thought we were and were supposed to be; a death of a map of the world we thought worthy of our trust and investment; a death of expectations that by choosing rightly we could avoid suffering, experience the love and approval of those around us, and achieve a sense of peace, satisfaction, arrival home.  But life has other plans it seems; indeed, our own souls have other plans.  And there is a terrible price to pay for ignoring or fleeing those intimations and summons to depth.”

Just before that paragraph Hollis said, “If there is such a thing as the soul, then it is the soul that ultimately tips the balance toward change, toward a more authentic stance in the world.

Every day we must decide whether or not to move forward, whether or not to encounter life as it meets us and make the most of it.  At the end of the podcast Kimi asked my favorite quote.  I did not hesitate.  It is a quote from Dag Hammarskjold.  “For all that has been, thanks.  For all that shall be, yes.”

8 thoughts on “Good Work on a Gray December Day

  1. Wow.
    Thank you, Paula, for communicating with such depth and excellence.
    In Kimi’s interview, you and Jonathan illuminate many aspects of the trans conundrum, so many difficult decisions and adjustments for loved ones after the primary decision is made. As you addressed, there was a call from God (with grace) that freed you to experience redemption and fulfillment. I can say amen. Your writings, speeches and interviews are memorable — you and your family are authenticity warriors.

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  2. Thanks be to God for your favorite quote ! I cannot help read it and not think of our dear Msgr. and our truly blessed study group of years past .For some reason each of our group was brought to mind with much gratitude at St. Patrick’s this morning. I now know why. I came home to read your current reflection.
    Blessings to all the Williamses for 2020 !
    One of my favorites : “All things noble are as difficult as they are rare “. (Spinoza ).
    Thank you for your noble efforts in proclaiming the Truth, who is the Christ….
    I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
    Love,
    Florence

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    • Thank you so, so much, Florence. Our study group was one of the most important experiences of my 35 years in New York. Much of my theology was formed there, thanks to Jim and all the rest of you. I miss you so much. I haven’t been back to the Island in almost three years. When I’m in NY, I never get out of Manhattan and Brooklyn, where I usually stay with Jonathan. I need to get back to East Islip. I’d love to see you and Stan again.

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