by The Rev. Connie Yost
I recently flew to Los Angeles to meet with one of our Chalice Oak Foundation clients, the nonprofit 20KWatts, which brings solar lighting to desperately poor communities in Central America. As I boarded the small commuter plane in Long Beach to return home, I found my seat next to a young girl who was sitting next to the window. I settled into my seat and asked her if she was travelling alone. Limpid blue pools looked straight at me and she kindly but firmly announced that she was. "I'm old enough," she told me. "People don't think that I am, but I am. I'm fourteen." Impressed with her self-possession, I struggled with what to say next. Certainly I would NOT say that she didn't look fourteen. She knows that; everyone always says that. And I remember how much I always hated people telling me that I didn't look my age (when I was younger, mind you!).
So I said, "Well, that's very good. I know how annoying it is when people think you're a lot younger than you are. They treat you like you don't know anything. I always hated that." "Yes," she agreed. "It is annoying," she said and calmly went on reading her book.
I didn't start travelling alone much less on an airplane until I was much much older than fourteen. But then, I was raised in the pre-feminist dark ages, discovering my own womanpower well into my thirties and with little support from my parents or society. I wondered how my life might have turned out had I been as empowered as she when I was 4'7" and weighed 80 lbs.
I recently attended an event at Reed College in Portland where three authors read their poetry and prose. It was the final event of a weeklong writing workshop, open to the public but obviously attended by many of the workshop students and organizers. I sat in the outdoor amphitheater watching an osprey land a prime seat for the reading, again wondering what my life might have been like had I actually attended Reed College as my high school counselor recommended. Always drawn to poetry and literature, would I have been one of the young workshop students in the audience? Would I now be a published author?
It's tempting to fantasize about the "what ifs" in life. But I try not to give them too much time or power. Of course my life would have been different given different circumstances, different choices. But I can't know how that would have affected me in my life, here, today. It's tempting to think that painful things wouldn't have happened and current problems wouldn't exist. But I have a strong suspicion that other painful things would have happened, and I would still be faced with certain current problems. No silver bullet out there for any of us, I'm afraid.
And I would still be growing older every year, happy that I still look a little younger than I am, and happier still that few people treat me like I don't know anything. But I don't know where the justice is in going from having your brain ignored to just being ignored, period. For women of a certain age, invisibility is a blessing and a curse, depending on who is around!
My fourteen year old seatmate reminded me that no matter our age, we all want to be seen and known for who we really are. We don't want people to make assumptions about us. We want respectful and open communication. We don't want to be judged. We want to be accepted, even if we disagree. We don't want a lecture. We want to feel safe enough to talk about how we feel, what we know, where we've been, what we dream about, what our grief is like.
And how delightful it is to set aside all prejudgments and let a new person reveal his or herself to you. It turns out my seatmate was an expert horsewoman and knew everything about caring for chickens, which I am thinking about getting. She also is an avid reader of books -- hardcopy books, not e-books -- and had definite opinions on the proper use of technology in her personal life. She reminded me of my cousin who grew up on a ranch in Montana in a whole other era. She made me smile and feel renewed hope for humanity.
I wonder where my fourteen year old friend will be in life at my age. I know she will have had her share of joys and sorrows, but through it all I hope she stays open to life with the same calm self-possession and serenity she has today. That's the birthday present I give to myself this year: noticing the road not traveled, accepting the road traveled, and focusing on the road ahead with courage and love.
Copyright 2013 Constance B. Yost. All rights reserved