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  • downinnorfolk

OLD AGE

My wife and I are old. I won’t go into details, but let’s say we are both well over 80. There are two phases of retirement and old age: the active and independent phase, and the phase in which our activities are curtailed and we become more dependent on others.

Those continuing years of independence are valuable and not to be wasted. We are still capable of work, part or even full-time, paid or unpaid, in which we can serve others and make a positive contribution to society. Retirement is not an excuse for idleness or self-indulgence. We are still occupying space and using up the resources of the world, so we ought to be making a contribution to the world while we still can. These years can be a time of deep satisfaction as we continue to employ the knowledge and experience that we have gained, and yet also have more leisure time to enjoy the pleasures of this life.

But the second phase of old age is different. It is a different world you have entered: different in more ways than one. The transition occurs when you develop some physical or mental condition which requires someone else to care for you, or when you become such a carer. The horizon draws in, perhaps to within your own four walls; the range of your daily activities is limited. It is the beginning of the process of dying, which can take a longer or shorter time. This process and the final event is something which all our lives we have known in theory will happen to us one day, but which now becomes a reality in a way it probably never was before. It is not easy, but then no phase of life is easy.

It is a sort of tunnel that we enter: the old views of the world and its activities out of the window of the train have gone and we have only the things within the carriage to enjoy and to do. One day we shall emerge from the tunnel, but into another country, and what sort of a new country and new world will that be? In the meantime, we need to learn to appreciate the life we have within the carriage. We may spend time looking back at the journey behind us, but if so, we need to do so with thanksgiving. Nostalgia, the pining for things that are gone, leads only to depression and regret. But we need to learn to enjoy the present: reading, listening, watching, talking, eating and drinking, even sleeping, but most valuable of all, enjoying the love and companionship of friends and family. There are of course some people, who through some infirmity or handicap have had to live much or all of their lives in this way. But we will probably all have to adjust to it for a time in old age.

Perhaps the most important thing to do with our time is to meditate on what indeed comes next, when we emerge from the tunnel of old age and death on the other side. Some people of course will tell you that death is simply the end, a hitting the buffers at the end of the line; journey’s end. But what about the resurrection of Jesus? Consider that. Consider the evidence for it, the testimony and the lives of his disciples. Consider the person of Jesus, his words, which we can read for ourselves in the Bible, his promises, the hope that he offers us.

We shall never walk by anything but faith in this matter of the things to come. By definition, we walk by faith not by sight. But there is no better way of spending our time in old age than in reading the stories of Jesus and praying for an increase of faith. This will sustain and strengthen our minds and spirits as we walk this last part of the way. We have known so many people amongst our families and friends who have walked this way before us, but we have probably never really stopped to understand what it is like. We were, for the most part, too busy earlier in our lives with our own comings and goings, to stop and try to prepare for this experience. But, unless some sudden death intervenes, we shall all have to face this last part of the journey of life, and it is a good idea to prepare for it as much as we are able.

My wife and I have now reached that stage ourselves, and I am encouraged and strengthened by a verse from an old hymn that I have known since childhood.


“Forever with the Lord”.

Amen, so let it be.

Life from the dead is in that word,

‘Tis immortality.

Here in the body pent,

Absent from Him I roam,

But nightly pitch my moving tent

A day’s march nearer home.

­_____

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