Friday, January 21, 2011

When You Are Old

I might end up like this. Most white Americans do. They live to a ripe old age for the most part, 78.1 years on average, and if cancer doesn't get them earlier, they tend to fade away gradually, the organs sputtering and eventually shutting down, the eyesight and hearing failing, the bowels loosening, the bladder slackening. We come in peeing and shitting the bed, and we tend to go out the same way. Perhaps we are fortunate if our memory goes before we have to suffer these indignities.

In any case, we are not in control. We think we are for a while, but life has a way of battering such nonsense out of us, and if job loss or wayward children or the death of those we love doesn’t do the trick, then the ultimate ignominy of bedshitting will. What, you think you’re somebody special? You’re soiling your sheets, Skipper.

I once had a pastor who hammered home the point, in sermon after sermon, that one of the toughest aspects of the Christian life was holding on loosely, and then letting go. He said we either learned the lesson a bit at a time, over the long course of a life, or we learned it the very hard way toward the end. Either way, we learned it. If we hold out for some sort of doctrine of fairness, of just rewards, of getting what is coming to us, then it is likely that we will only learn it the very hard way toward the end. But perhaps we can pick up a few lessons along the way. Here is one: I am so thankful for my wife and kids. I am blessed beyond measure. And here is another: I am so thankful for my sister Libby, celebrating her 47th birthday today. Cancer has spread throughout her body, and she will not live to be old and gray. This saddens me beyond measure. And I am thankful for her beyond measure. I am learning to let go, and it’s a hell of a classroom. But I am learning.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
-- W.B. Yeats


John McCollum said...

Thanks, Andy

lbotta said...

Andy, thank you for these words. You have given me, as always,food for thought.

Andy Whitman said...

You're welcome, friends.

nancy (aka moneycoach) said...


Nick said...

Thanks for sharing this, Andy.