"’Cause what if everyone saw? What if everyone knew? Would they like what they saw? Or would they hate it too?"
—Evan in "Words Fail (YouTube)" from Dear Evan Hansen, by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
“Words Fail,” he says, with a wry smile that’s trying hard to be teenagery and ironic. “I could use a good cry.”
I know he’s talking about the song from Dear Evan Hansen, but the title answered my question with poignant accuracy: “What do you want to sing today?” “Words fail.”
When I was fourteen years old, I was a closeted gay kid who spent approximately ninety-six percent of his daily calories trying not to make a blip on anyone’s radar—staying academically solid, musically reliable, emotionally unflappable—and the other four percent trying in vain to develop pectoral muscles solely through the power of prayer. The young man in front of me is in conversations with his parents about beginning hormone replacement therapy, and what that will mean for his blossoming musical gifts. Oh—and school, and choir, and the locker room. And a pandemic.
On the surface, he and I are so different. A voice on one shoulder insists it would be presumptuous and spiritually aggressive of me to try to “help.”
But I’ve smiled that wry smile. I smiled it at fourteen years old, and I smiled it this morning at forty-nine. We navigate different seas, but we both know what it’s like to feel salt water wash over the deck. And he trusts me—God help me, this kid trusts me to be there for him on those days when the salt is particularly hard to rinse off.
So I acknowledge his joke with a nose-sniff chuckle and a broad, tight-lipped grin, and as our two pairs of shining eyes connect with one another. I inhale deeply.
There’s a moment of stillness after I’ve made space in my chest and the pressure of the world outside has filled my lungs with air, but before I’ve reclaimed the air for my own speech. It’s a gaping moment, full of memories and analogies and prayers, and it hangs overhead and colors the light like a summer rain cloud at sunrise.
“Isn’t that the truth,” I say, with a catch in my own voice, as I set my hands on the keys and start to play.
Spirit of Life who dwells before and between and beyond all words… we open ourselves to you.