A recent trip on my terrace sent me careening into the front door and down onto our barnstone step for fractured kneecap. Instead of enjoying the first few lovely days of spring digging in my flower bed, I am recuperating in a rehab facility with my left leg in a brace. Teetering on the verge of retirement in a few years, my twice daily visits to Physical Therapy have been sobering.
A tall lanky man with broad shoulders, thinning hair, and the skin of someone who has spent his days working outdoors in the sun and the wind, sits in a wheelchair wrestling to lift a one pound weight. Behind the aging facade, I saw the ghost of a strong, hard worker. I imagined him as a farmer, riding his tractor over spring fields, the warm lights of home and his family waiting to welcome him home.
When we are young we eagerly anticipate the next milestone in our lives: a driver’s license, graduation, a job, our own place to call home. If we are lucky, we find the right person to spend that journey with. Suddenly, the years that seemed to move so slowly speed by and our own children follow the path to independence that we have already taken. We wish we could slow the progression down. Tasks that once were simple and easy become difficult and unavoidably our lives change.
A nurse told me the story of a woman who had to sell her house and possessions and move into a nursing home. She was given a 12’x12′ room to hold her bed and all her medical equipment. Her agreement permitted her to take one piece of furniture with her when she moved in. She chosen a grandfather clock. The story tore at my heart the same way the elderly man in PT had. For the woman, this heirloom clock represented not only her lifetime but the lives of a host of family members who preceded her. It tied her to the past as she irrevocably sped toward the future.
We cannot “turn back time” as Cher once sang. Taking care of our bodies and our health can delay aging but never arrest it. We inevitably reach a tipping point and then skid unwillingly toward a decline. Science with all its wonders cannot stop it. As humans we are born with a self-destruct mechanism that can’t be defused. So often, by the time we realize what we are losing, we also find that we may not have fully enjoyed what we had. The final milestone looms up unexpectedly fast.
I wonder if we shouldn’t, as a church and a society, prove “compassionate listeners” for our aging population. I think most elderly people’s souls cry out to be recognized as more than the husks that their bodies have become. Inside, a bright spirit burns simply waiting for someone to say, “Tell me about your life.”
I’ve wrestled this week to find some peace with the inevitability of growing old and find I unexpectedly will cherish the glimpse of our final destination that the man from PT gave me: a farmer on his tractor, the sun setting behind him in a puddle of molten gold. Lavendar clouds drift along the horizon and in the folds of the hill ahead of him, warm lights and family beckon him home.