Two Great Fantasies

Just a fair warning, this is not a lighthearted post. It is about loneliness.

In the fall of 2018, Cathy moved 25 minutes away. I stayed in our comfortable and spacious mountain home. We share an office at the house where we see counseling clients and each other a couple of days a week. Cathy stays with me when the family is in town. Otherwise, we are alone.

Cathy and my best friend thought that if I did not transition, I would not survive. My therapist thought I would survive but noted just how much more depressed I was becoming with each passing year. The options weren’t great.

Then came the evening in 2010 when I was watching the final season of LOST and Jack, the protagonist, was called by Jacob, the God figure, to die. That was it. I knew I had been called to figuratively die. I sobbed on the couch until 3:00 in the morning, fell asleep for a couple of hours, then woke up and wept until dawn. It was two years before I transitioned, but it was put in motion that February evening.

We still don’t know what causes gender dysphoria. There are some pretty good hypotheses, but they are just that. I don’t really need to know what caused me to be transgender. For me, the proof is in the living. It is far more natural living as a woman than it was living as a man. Life is so much harder for women, and yet it feels right. The body I have is my body. It is me.

Yet, I am lonely. I did not expect to be alone at this stage of my life. I sleep with only my arm by my side. I have filled my life with meaningful activities and friends. I am a pastor at Left Hand Church. I serve on the Board of Trustees of the Town of Lyons. I speak all over the world on issues of gender equity. I work with speakers for TEDxMileHigh and as a Speaker’s Ambassador for TED. I love helping clients as a pastoral counselor. I consult with and preach for post-evangelical churches around the nation. My life is full and varied, more like the life of someone half my age.

I have friends with whom I take long rambling walks and steep, rocky hikes. I feel particularly close to my co-pastors and several members of our little church.

You say, “You have a good and fruitful life, Paula. You travel the world and serve in a plethora of wonderful positions. How can you be so lonely?” Because I am alone, that is why. Inevitably at some point in life, we are all alone. I was talking with a good friend last week about late in life romance. She has a friend who married in her 70s and had ten wonderful years with her spouse before he died. Now, her acute loneliness is great.

When you fall in love as an older person, that falling is no less powerful than when you were a teenager, which is remarkable. Your body is wearing down, your spirit is weary, yet new love taps into the life-giving energy of wonder. Losing love does not get easier as you get older. It still feels like an affront to the very forces of life. You are shocked to discover with Thomas Wolfe that, “The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”

But after decades of a good marriage, you do not expect to suddenly be alone. You don’t think about these things, because you just assume your partner will always be there, and when you do pass on, it will somehow be within hours of each other. My father lived five and a half months after my mother passed. He was ready to go on the day of her funeral. The last thing he said to her was, “I’ll see you later.” That is how it’s supposed to be. Mom and Dad were married for 73 years, six months, and two days.

I wish I was not transgender. It has taken much from me. I would prefer that we figure out what causes someone to be transgender and fix it. At least we are moving in the direction of recognizing it sooner and stopping the late-in-life onset of pain and separation that is the lot of so many who are trans. If I could have transitioned in my late teen years or early twenties, I could have spared Cathy so much pain. Of course, then we would not have had our wonderful children and grandchildren.

We live life as it is handed to us, for better or worse. I am glad I was a husband and father. I wish I could have remained so. I am fulfilled and comfortable as a woman. but I hate being alone.

James Hollis said there are two great fantasies humans must relinquish in the second half of life. First, we must let go of the notion that we are immortal exceptions to the human condition. Second, we must give up the notion that out there somewhere is a magical other who will rescue us from existential isolation. Thomas Wolfe is right. Loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.