I am not as good looking as I once was. I am not as smart. I do not learn things as quickly. I am not as healthy. Or as strong.
I try to grow in wisdom. Some days, I think that increased life experience even offers a fair trade for the things that are slowly slipping through my fingers.
(For the record: I’ll be 40 in December. Certainly no old man. But not quite a spring chicken either.)
The truth is that even this advantage may well fade. There will be a time, perhaps, that the things that age takes will increase at such a rate that wisdom can’t keep up. And there will be a time, perhaps, that the wisdom I have gathered will begin to shrink.
I have watched a few loved ones grow old and die. And sometimes, it has been awful.
There is this romantic that even as we begin to forget specifics, we hold on to some deeper knowledge. There is this idea that senility turns into these absent-minded professors, filled with knowledge, not so good on trivia. We have this idea that maybe we can hoild onto our personality and maturity as the specifics fade…
I wish that this notion matched up with the reality I’ve experienced.
But to be really truthful, that’s not how it’s gone for me. Early on, sure. The specifics are the first to go.
But then… I have watched beloved grandparents stripped of maturity. And dignity. I have watched them transformed into these infantile states, rage-filled, pain-wracked, and so very confused.
There is no making this o.k. But I’m coming to find some solace in it all.
I am finding solace in letting some things go. Not stuff about them. Stuff about me.
I make this idol of intelligence. I have these delusions of independence. A couple blog posts back, a commentor shared the idea that their child enjoys singing “All you need is love.”
And it occured to me, as I reflected on this… If all we need is love, then the other stuff, maybe it gets in the way.
For a while, we get to have all these other… toys. We get good looks. Intelligence. Wisdom. Health.
And more or less in the order we accumulate them, all these extras are stripped away.
A thing I have learned as a special education teacher to emotionally disturbed adolescents is that sometimes, even love has to be measured in relative terms. The other day, a colleague went out of his way for a profoundly distrubed student. This student is always negative. Always nasty. And he’s got lots of good reasons to be.
My co-worker said to this child, “After I did all this stuff for you, you’re still going to swear at me. After I did this for you, can’t you find something nice to say?”
And the kid considered this. And he smirked. And he said something with more subtle humor than any of us would have ever expected out of him. He said, “Well, you’re not as annoying as most of these other people.”
Relative to his normal endless string of curses, these few words are practically a Shakespearean ode of eternal love. Compared to the things he normally said to people, this is a victory.
And compared to God’s endless, perfect love, everything we’re ever going to be able to pull off, it’s only worth celebrating in relative terms. All of us are like that kid. If we bring a smile to God’s face, it’ll be the wry smile that my coworkers and I shared, comparing a fairly harmless sentence to the normal toxicity of his sayings.
And so at the end of our lives, when so much has been taken from us… perhaps we are reduced to snarling, angry things with such rage and pain. Perhaps, when compared even with our own selves early in life, we are much… less…. than once were.
But when taken in context…. when the full reality of what we are faced with is really grappled with, maybe there is something beautiful about the fact that we are only yelling in anger, not biting at someones fingers. And if we are biting at someone’s fingers, perhaps it is only because we have something of our capacity to love built up over the years that we are not assaulting someone with a chair.
It’s a cold comfort. And I hope that I’ve been clear, and not cruel here. I am still figuring it all out myself…