Come, thieving time, take what you must,
Quickness to move, to hear, to see,
When dust gathers near to dust,
Such diminutions need must be,
But leave, O leave, exempt from plunder,
My sense of humor, curiosity, and wonder.
But a sense of humor, curiosity, and wonder aren’t always enough if facing infirmity, loneliness and death.
The first time I ever thought much about how old I was getting, I was staring at my reflection in a mirror - in Quito Ecuador - on my 23rd birthday; it dawned on me (finally) I was an adult – but the choices I had been making were not so wise. I had some decisions to make, not fully realizing that growing up meant growing old. That was the only birthday that literally troubled me. Plenty of other times have given me pause to reflect on how quickly my life was passing – but not another birthday – so far.
About twenty-three years later, was one such time as I stood in the autumn sunlight of our dressing area, stunned by the realization that “middle aged” was no longer an apt description of my age and stage. How it came to me was doing the math . . . doubling my age that afternoon I figured that put me well beyond what even Moses said was a reasonable prospect of longevity. (Psalm 90:10)
Another twenty years, or so, has passed since that epiphany – decades that brought all kinds of changes – the least of which has been aging: people whose lives I often took for granted died; new relationships have been forged – I have another “son” and “daughter” – gifts of grandchildren who will outlive me, God willing. Changes that seemed unthinkable have come to pass – wars, uncertainty, and a “normlessness”– anomie – that I thought only described post World War I; “unshakeable” foundations shook.
When I first thought about growing older, I assumed I had time, time to dream and live those dreams out – time to make a difference – I would make a major contribution to my world. And I would be very different from other women I knew! Twenty three years passed and my ideas about what to contribute had changed; my desire to be so different has mellowed. Another couple of decades zipped by, and imagining the future is not as pleasurable as remembering how far God has brought me; I miss the women, my mother, family and friends, all from whom I wanted to be so different. And that sense of humor, curiosity, and wonder doesn’t overcome pain, loneliness and fear.
I read Isaiah 46:3-5 and am comforted by God, who is the God of my gray hairs – an important promise for one who decided to retire Miss Clairol.
“When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful.”(Psalm 73:26 from THE MESSAGE )
Grateful for each day, then – even as my get up and go . . . diminishes . . . even with increasing limitations, I can with laughter, curiosity and wonder, pray:
. . . And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.
. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. . . (Psalm 51:10-15)