The days shorten and the nights are growing chilly. Somewhere, far away, the North Wind is marshaling its various breezes and gales to start blowing away the leaves and the sunshine, leaving us with naught but bare trees and bleak skies. I have imagined that I’m looking forward to cold weather, but the first two or three days will probably be my limit. After that, my place will be by the fire soaking up the barely adequate warmth and dreaming of hot Summer afternoons. It seems just yesterday that I was bemoaning the extreme heat of the long, simmering season that was Summer for us this year. We may even see a few more of those sultry, steamy days before Fall is here in full force, but the mind is already turning to the harbingers of a dreary season still to come.
If you had stopped reading at the paragraph break above, you might have gone away thinking that I was once again showing my disdain for the cold dreary months that make up that season we call Winter. And, you would be partially right. But today my mind has been captured by thoughts of the passing of time. Several divergent occurrences have dragged my spirit to take a peek forward to that time which we are programmed to fight with everything that is in us. From the moment we become adults…No, even before that…as teenagers, we are warned that old age is a curse. We taunt the caricature of senility and secretly fear the reality of that dreaded condition. Strong, healthy bodies are worshiped, while the crippled and decrepit are shunned. Hair is a thing of glory, the talisman of our self-expression, and baldness and gray hair are the subject of jokes and derision. The inevitability of old-age and the toll it will take on body and mind are pushed as far away from our erstwhile immortal minds as possible. Well, over the last few days, some subtle messages have been arriving, each in different costume, but all with the same communication for me: If it hasn’t taken place yet (and I don’t think it has), the season is beginning to change. Summer is past, the Autumn is fast approaching. And if Autumn is in the air, can Winter be far behind?
An old friend, himself approaching the same season as I, reminded me gently this week that, in spite of a good time of worship at church on Sunday, it might be time to pass the baton on to the younger generation. I have thought this for some time now and his willingness to speak the truth only serves to reinforce the resolve to push more quickly toward the hand-off point. And, over the past few weeks, the body has reminded me in several ways that it doesn’t work quite as well as it once did, taking longer to recover from setbacks. Before you know it, I’ll be sitting around the table with the other oldsters, having the “organ recitals” for which that generation is becoming famous. You know, the woes of the kidneys, and heart, and lungs, and a few we don’t want to discuss here at all. Aches and pains will be completely acceptable subjects of conversation for parties and mealtime alike.
The knockout blow, the one that dragged my mind to the serious contemplation of the process of growing old, arrived in the mail today. My name and address plastered clearly on the envelope (No “occupant” or “to our friend at:”), the window normally reserved for a return address proclaims for all the world to read: “SENIOR BENEFITS DEPARTMENT”. As if that weren’t enough, the line under that declares just as brazenly: “TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL”. I will admit to being a bit amused at the “senior benefits” line, but the “time sensitive” blurb brought pause to my usually dismissive attitude toward becoming old.
Time sensitive? What does that mean? Quite obviously, from my normal, skeptical perspective, one would assume that the offer this organization wishes to extend to me is one which will expire soon. Oh! Expire isn’t such a good word to use when broaching this subject, is it? It does drive home the point though, doesn’t it?
Time has a way of moving inexorably forward, unlike we fickle humans. Oh, we all develop physically and then grow older steadily, but our maturity level follows a somewhat different pattern. Okay…mine does anyway. All of my life, periods of progress have been interrupted, sometimes sporadically, sometimes frequently, by times of stagnation and even a few intervals of regression. My childish behavior demonstrates itself in more sophisticated ways, but it is childish behavior nonetheless. At fifty-some years of age, my response to not getting my way still matches that of my two-almost-three year old granddaughter frequently. The note on the piece of mail delivered to me today serves as a stark reminder that the time left to finish growing up is becoming shorter constantly.
Seasons change. The world keeps turning from one year to the next, from one age to another. Nothing we will do can stop that. I’m not unhappy with the process. I just hope that the batons I am going to pass on to the next runners are worth their trouble to carry. I’m pretty sure there’s still time to work on that. I trust that it will be so.
Would you run alongside me for awhile? My knee hurts a little. And, I’ve got a little pain in my shoulder when I turn like this…
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish things behind me.”
(I Corinthians 13:11~NIV)
I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago,
and people who will see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.
(J.R.R. Tolkien~British author and educator~1892-1973)