I visited my parents this weekend. They live in Syracuse near my sister. I grew up in a little town called Moira in upstate New York (the real upstate…my husband calls it southern Canada). As my parents got older, access to good health care didn’t seem adequate there anymore. They sold their home and now live in senior housing. Every time I see them, they complain about having to see so many doctors and how often the ambulance comes to their complex. My response is always the same: Getting old stinks.
Well, it does and it doesn’t. The hard part, it seems, is that our bodies stop cooperating. We are still ourselves on the inside, but our limbs get stuck, our skin sags and our engines don’t want to run the way they did. My mom especially seemed older to me this time. She hunches in her chair, as if it is going to swallow her up. She looks just like my grandmother did when she sat in her favorite chair.
The great thing about getting older is the time already spent. The blessing of experiences, the relationships with people and the lessons learned all add up to the richness in years. I don’t know if time makes decisions easier, but I think there is more meaning in them. We often call older people wise. Getting older is like the strength we see in a long-standing tree. The bark may buckle and split, and the branches may not be as supple over time, but they are so much nicer to sit under with their shade. They stand up to the heaviest storms. Getting older has the benefit of looking back. We can’t be beautiful oaks without being saplings first.
So aging isn’t so bad, but I still don’t like seeing it happen. I don’t like seeing my mom sink in her chair. And as I work longer at our parish, I notice going to more and more funerals. I see more gray in my own hair, and I sometimes forget why I came into a room. But that’s life, right? I’d rather be here for the ride God gave us, take the risk of living and get to know the wonder of people (this creation!) than sit idly by. We live, we love, we try to find meaning and we make our place in the world. Being numb isn’t living. Like my favorite line in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Age can be a blessing or a curse. We have to choose…and I think God always chooses life for us.
Someday I may be hunched in a chair too, but hopefully with a smile on my face. What’s your choice?