Getting older isn’t for the weak
Have you ever daydreamed of living your life backward? Admittedly, it is not something that a healthy and happy young person would do. No, the springtime of life is all about hastening forward, eagerly anticipating the next birthday and the opportunities it brings. Indeed, the younger one is, the more anything at all seems possible.
But the autumn of life has arrived when you no longer look to the future with eager expectation. Whether or not you are happy and at peace with your life, the future has become more a scene of fear than fantasy. Why? Because each year coming will mark losses, decline, even deaths.
The autumn of life has arrived when you no longer look to the future with eager expectation.
This is when we begin to speak of “holding back time.” Yet it should not be a sad time of life. If we have lived well, this is when we begin to notice the changes of the seasons more than we did when we were young. We take note when flowers bloom and the first signs of autumn can be seen. We treasure time spent with loved ones more than we did when we were young. And we are grateful for having learned, to some extent, what deserves our now treasured time and what does not.
It is in these years that the daydream of living life backward appears. Ponder the fantasy a little. Whatever this past week has been like, surely you could do it better by going backward. You would know what to look out for. And let us presume that going backward is like going forward. You forget most of what is distant. So it won’t be long at all before you will be living through episodes that you have entirely forgotten. You won’t be able to draw upon hindsight then.
So why is it still attractive, this idea of moving backward in time? Because everything that once withered away comes back into bloom: your hair, young health, your strength. Each year would see the return of those who were lost to you over the decades. Everything you have watched scatter to the wind like dust would again be solid and splendid.
The future demands faith. Either we summon it and nurture it, or fear will rule our final days.
Eventually you would return to those now cherished days of childhood, when life held some frustrations but very few fears. There are your parents, looking after everything that was needed, filling your life with security and strength. The worries of life are on their shoulders, but they are also young and strong. The coming Christmas will be their chore but yours to cherish as a kid.
Of course, traveling either way through time, all things pass. What is more, in either direction, the story will be one of gain and loss. So what is really the allure in daydreaming back through your life? Security, I suspect. By going backward, you know exactly where your life is going, and that removes the great burden in every age of life: uncertainty about the future. Not knowing the future, we must climb ever so carefully, but we can glide back through the past because we know that even the worst of it will pass.
Dear frightened friends, since we belong to Christ, we have no reason to fear the future.
We close another liturgical year by celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King. The focus of the feast is that the future belongs to Christ. It will see the dawning of his kingdom.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will also be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:25-28).
Dear frightened friends, since we belong to Christ, we have no reason to fear the future. No diagnosis, divorce, disaster or death can separate us from him. Whatever is pried from our grasp in this life will be returned to us in his future, in the life of the cosmos to come.
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark (Ez 34: 11-12).
Do we draw great comfort and solace from this feast? That depends upon our faith, how strong it is. If we truly believe that the future, our future, belongs to Christ, the champion who loves us, we can live the passing days in peace. With great faith, life is all about savor and surrender.
This week an older parishioner repeated something, which he had heard an even older parishioner say, for herself, many years ago: “Getting old isn’t for the weak.” Indeed it isn’t. The future demands faith. Either we summon it and nurture it, or fear will rule our final days.
We cannot choose which way we would like to move through time. It flows in one direction: forward, where the Son of Man is coming in glory, where he will gather his own to himself. The choice that lies before us is singular. On which side of the Son of Man, right or left, will we stand? That is the great business of the time we have left, however long or short.