Jane: Do Not Go Gracefully Into That Good Night (Not that you even could if you tried you old dingbat!)
by Jane Tawel
March 10, 2018
Who gave someone the creative license to come up with the idiom, “aging gracefully”? There ain’t much graceful about not being able to bend down without cringing and creaking to pick something up. I don’t connect gracefulness with the gait I now use to jog in the mornings. Grace is not one of those things people associate with my age when I drop things because my hands no longer grip as tightly as they should.
Tomorrow I greet another marker of the day of my birth. And I hurt all over. We, of my age, joke that being old means you never have a day without pain – somewhere – sometimes it seems every where. I remember a friend telling me about the medication he was on for some illness that had the side effect of removing all of his pains. He immediately understood why people get addicted to these drugs. It wasn’t until he started taking it that he realized that the difference between youth and age is that when you are young, you enjoy most days without any aches any where; while when you get older you always have an ache somewhere, sometimes you have an ache everywhere. This past week I was joking with other “of an age” teachers, that every day I wake up and am for some reason, shocked and surprised to find that things hurt. It is like being a little child again, except the opposite. Little children wake up every day to find new things they can do and are pleasantly surprised. Old folks wake up every day shocked anew to find old things they can’t do any more, and are unpleasantly resigned. My mom always says with a bit of sass, “but I don’t feel that old inside”.
Of the many wonderful things my ancestors passed down to me, arthritis is not one of the wonderful ones. Hands gnarling like claws and joints frozen in stiff excruciation; a back that believes it was only created to go forward and not turn without causing its owner to wince like a baby-I-see-a-baby. These devils of discomfort not only give me physical pain, but emotional as well. I am too young at heart to have my body do this. It just doesn’t suit my personality – which is immature.
And I sure can’t wear high heels any more. Not that any woman should subject herself to those tootsie torture chambers! My feet and knees were once the day’s darlings. My intrepid trotters trod tirelessly the heights and depths. My articulatio genu (so I love a good Google, so sue me!) — ran seven seven-minute miles seven days a week, in a godly perfection of physical fitness. Now, “at an age”, after a day in orthopedic looking Aerosols, my non-pedi-ed horn crowned hoofers cry out: “Help us! Save us! Do you not know that, We are but flesh and bone!”
Do I count my blessings daily? You betcha’! I do not (yet) have to go through the horrific things friends do when they get cancer. I have had a relatively healthy body since youth. The fruit of my womb are healthy and the Fruit of the Loom I wear is while no longer a size 4, a somewhat acceptable size 8. I have had a long life already and hope to trot-in-place this globe a few years more, God willing.
But it is interesting to teach Bible this year and stand in front of my students’ darling, perfect little selves, still sporting a bit of baby fat, or with limbs so childishly thin and muscle-less that you just want to hand them a raw steak and some cheesecake to wash it down.
My students come with prayer requests for colds and sniffles but also for ailing grandparents, and serious family illnesses. And I love to pray with them, but I also have to tell these budding believers in as gentle and childlike way as I can muster, the hard, sad facts of life; that although my own sin does not cause my infirmities, I have infirmities in this lifetime because of sin. In a nutshell, Paul says in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“
I happened upon this quote by Karl Barth, “No cultural education, no art, no evolutionary development helps us beyond our sins. We must receive assistance from the ground up. Then the steep walls of our security are broken to bits, and we are forced to become humble, poor, and pleading. Thus we are driven more and more to surrender and give up all that we have, surrender and give up those things which we formerly used to protect and defend and hold to ourselves against the voice of the resurrection’s truth.”
I see a lot of people – and I am tempted – who try to protect something impossible to protect – their youthful selves The Baal of Botox beckons and I, too, sacrifice much moola on the altar of the Pandora of skin potions. But what does it profit an old girl if she gains a good mask for her wrinkles, but in the process loses about a trillion, gazillion dollars? The flip side is –Old age can be a great forceful stimulant to eradicate one’s pride and provide a needed tonic for a new sense of directed and peaceful humbleness.
My birthday always falls in the season of Lent. When I give up something like sweets, that either makes me sad or I break my Lenten promises to God. (Thank God, I only gave up newspapers this year – good for my soul and good for my poor old eyes.) Today I was thinking about aging and Lent. I can either sink into a depression about all the things that go wrong with my body (and don’t even get me started about what goes wrong with one’s mind! With one’s mind. With one’s mind. Wait, did I already say that?) Or during Lent I can reflect and rejoice.
If one’s season as a child is like Christmas, and as a young adult, like the Fourth of July, then this season of my life must be a season of Lent; and like Lent itself, it seems to be in some perverse way, one of the hardest times and yet one of my favorite times. It is a season of life when I have a long road behind me of so many wonderful years and people, and although I wish I had been better at living them, I was privileged to live them at all. It is a time when I don’t try so hard to be someone, and therefore, I can see others with more grace, and sit in the passenger seat more often, as they take the reins and drive this crazy cart called Life. It is time when I know more, but need to prove it less. It is a time when God seems closer and friendlier and Surer. It is a time when I can mourn with those who mourn and in that way, understand the silence and helplessness of our fallen-ness. And this season of life for me is a time when I recognize more the true simplicity of my daily needs and my joy in their provision by a good, good God.
Lent is a time to recognize our great need of a Savior. Jesus tells His disciples, not to fast while the Bridegroom is “in the house”. Jesus later tells His disciples that His resurrected body must, like Elvis leave the building. But unlike Elvis or any other human being, because Jesus accomplished with His “old body” what the Old Adam never could, we all have the opportunity to have a new body just as He did, through the Resurrection. Jesus also says that though he takes His housing with Him when He ascends, His Spirit will come to live in our “houses”.
My aging body is a great reminder that, we do not evolve, nor ever have. When we are young, we are all like that first Eve. And like the first created human, we will choose self again and again, and again. Getting older means I can not actually “fix” most of myself any more. And for me, that means I can either, as Barth says, “protect and defend myself against the voice of the resurrection’s truth” or I can submit to the God who sees beyond our infirmities to Christ’s potential. If I surrender all of me to the radical power of Christ’s cross, then I shall also experience the wholeness of Christ’s Resurrection self.
Oh, knobbly knees and crone-ish hands, thou hast no power over me. In arthritic joints, I claim my victory over viscous varicose vice! In boorish backs that swoon in fright over the endless stairs of this World, I laugh and use the handrail. Oh, twingy terrors of troubled sleep, I pray through your dark hours! You, oh flesh, may serve no king but Big Pharma, but I serve the King of New Life and that resurrection will include this poor old dishrag of dust, this shell of selfishness, this body of broken parts. The Great Physician lives for and in me! And in this body, with walls that decay, is the temple for His Eternal Spirit.
While I may not be aging gracefully, I am only aging because of Grace. And that same grace that has covered my sins in the blood and death of Jesus, The Christ, is also my insurance policy on this old body.
Because if I know anything about the Holy Spirit of Christ, it is that it doesn’t plan on living in this dump forever. Resurrection means a makeover, like this girl ain’t ever dreamed of!